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2012 FIAT 500: What's It Like to Live With?

Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2012 FIAT 500 as our editors live with this car for a year.

FIAT 500 2012

What do you want to know about?


We're in the Fiat booth at the 2011 New York International Auto Show and, despite having seen Fiat booths at a few other domestic shows, it's still slightly surreal. We're surrounded by at least 10 examples of the all-new 2012 Fiat 500 — the only Fiat on sale in the U.S. at the moment — when a local TV news reporter comes over and things get even stranger.

"I need to do a feature on the new Fiat," she says to the booth guy. "Excellent. The 2012 Fiat 500 is right over here."

"No. The new one. It's got an exciting, exotic name...." she counters. "Ah, yes, of course, the 2012 Fiat Cinquecento! Right this way..."

The Fiat 500 or the Fiat Cinquecento, however you pronounce it: Fiat's back in America and we just bought one for a Long-Term Road Test.

What We Bought
Two of the main concessions made by Fiat on the U.S. version of the 500 were a driver's armrest and an automatic transmission. We'll happily take the armrest, but no way were we getting an automatic transmission with a car — and engine — this small. Fiat, however, had us covered; it wasn't even offering automatics on the first round of shipments. This made our transmission decision much easier. Five-speed manual it is.

The first real step was to decide which model we wanted: Pop ($16,000), Sport ($18,000) or Lounge ($20,000). Lounge was out right away. This is Inside Line, not Inside Chaise; we're not buying anything with Lounge in the name for the fleet. So it was Pop or Sport. Sport comes with a firmer suspension, 16-inch wheels wrapped in 195/45R16 rubber, retuned steering, a roof spoiler, foglamps, cloth/vinyl sport seats and slightly different styling. They had us at "retuned steering." Done. Sport.

Next up was options. We got the sunroof ($850) and the Safety and Sound package ($350). The latter includes Sirius Satellite Radio and an alarm. Other options included heated seats and a dash-mounted nav system, but we decided to pass to keep the price reasonable.

Next was color: Magrath voted for Verde Oliva (green olive), claiming we didn't have any brand-new green cars. Takahashi wanted Blanco to match the rest of our fleet and Riswick wanted Mocha Latte, or he wanted a mocha latte, we're still not sure. The boss, however, wanted red — it's sporty, Italian and goes with the brakes. So we got red with a black-over-gray interior.

There are no options for the engine. Want a 2012 Fiat 500? You get a 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder that churns out 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 98 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. A hundred-and-one hp doesn't sound like a lot, and in a 2,400-pound car, it, well, isn't.

There was no negotiating to be done. We paid sticker and left the dealership $19,200 ($21,451 with TTL) lighter in exchange for our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport.

Why We Bought It
Inside Line makes it a point to buy (or get from the manufacturer) new, significant models for our long-term fleet whenever they come around. If there's a new 3 Series, consider it on the list. New Toyota Camry? You know we're there. New Honda Odyssey? We're on it. So when there's a new brand in the USA we want to be first in line.

Unfortunately, at least 500 dedicated Fiat fans beat us to the punch. When we went to place our order for the Fiat 500, we found out that we weren't even close to getting a Prima Edizione, the special edition allocated to die-hard Fiat fans. Fair enough: we don't need a special badge. Right now, the "Fiat" badge is special enough.

In our Full Test of the 500 we said, "...we can tell you that the Fiat 500 has flavor, inside and out, more than just about anything else in the small-car class."

So it's got flavor and it's priced right. But so did the Smart Fortwo, and we all remember how that went. Will the Fiat end up in the same boat, or does this little car have what it takes to bring Fiat back to the U.S. in style?

Current Odometer: 2010
Best Fuel Economy: 33.7
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.4
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 28.7

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Freak Out

May 03, 2011

My first experience with this little red car was the night before the Long Term Introduction photo shoot. My immediate impression was that this thing is small. Yes, I love driving our Raptor, so the transition to this thing is rather stark.

My second impression was that the interior was fun. But that fun is only surface deep.

I was warned before I got into the car about the lack of driver seat height adjustment. The lever to raise/lower the seat had been snapped in two by a previous driver. That has me worried about the F.i.a.t. reputation (Fix It Again Tony) and this thing is assembled in Mexico. Not that I think all Mexican products are crap, there are plenty of other fine cars on the road assembled there. But I mention it because my girl has a Jetta assembled south of the boarder and the doors whistle above 65mph. The same car also had a transmission replaced with >15k miles on it. Does the fault lay with VW or Mexico? Not sure, but it does add a drop of concern to my mix.

A fore mentioned concerns plus the fact this thing is basically a first run vehicle do raise some red flags in my book. But I have to admit it, our 500 is fun to drive around. Maybe it's the novelty of it. Maybe it's the funky fun design of the thing. My girl said it reminded her of a clown car at the circus. Yeah it is a little silly looking, but I'm surprised that I even like to looks of it. No I don't need my head examined, plenty of others were freaking out over this compact alternate at gas stations, parking lots, and on the freeways. Whether you like it or not, it does have appeal.

I heard one person saying this thing doesn't make sense. It's too expensive, it's too small, it doesn't offer great economy, nor is it a performer. Sure, you might win on all points, but want and need are two different things. What about folks who buy a heavy duty off-road machine like the Raptor and it never sees dirt? People buy more often than not with their heart, not their brain.

Let's be honest, it's never going to win a race or be a great economical performer in it's current configuration. But it does offer people a stylish alternative to some of the boring compacts out there. That fact alone is going to give this thing a toe hold in the US market.

Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography

Broken Seat Adjuster

May 03, 2011

You'll no doubt remember the part in Jacobs' post where he mentioned that the seat adjuster had broken. Well, here's the proof. And the confession by the guy who did it....

The first weekend we had the 500, I was arrogant and selfish enough to think that the seat position in our Fiat 500 was simply too high, so I grabbed the well-placed handle and levered it down. All the way down at first just to see how low it would go. Too low, it turns out, so I went to lever it a teeny bit higher; half a lever-pull maybe.

But the seat wouldn't move, so I tried pulling it up again — still using only my fingertips — with a little bit of force, but not HULK SMASH force... and then the handle shattered and shot into the backseat.

I called our local Fiat dealership from that parking lot to order a new handle. Surely an interior piece of an Italian car sold by Chrysler would be easy to find, right? (Also, am I the first person to break a Fiat since their return to the States?)

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, @ 563 miles

Let's Just Get This Out of The Way

May 04, 2011

122 miles per hour.

How'd I get it there? Well it took a while, but since we had a closed course I just kept it in fourth until it ran out of steam. There were 300 rpm left before redline. A shift into fifth caused the speed to drop, as it's just an overdrive gear. Even with its short wheelbase, the car was stable.

Unprofessional driver and an unprofessional passenger (Mark Takahashi) on a - say it with me! - closed course.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 2,185 miles

Prius Pacers

May 04, 2011

Ah, America. You have got to be big to win respect in this country. The Fiat 500 is not big, and there are not yet very many of them, so it gets dissed.

Prius drivers look over at the Fiat 500 on the freeway and quickly decide that they have finally found a car that they do not have to be afraid of. They don’t race you exactly, but instead pace you, so you can’t slide past or even slide over. This is worse than racing, because it forms a rolling road block.

A Volvo cut me off today as well, barging into the slot in front of me as we lined up for an off-ramp. What’s next, a Sienna driver flipping me off in his rear-view mirror?

Am going to have to start driving like an Italian.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 2,175 miles

Obligatory Parking Post #1

May 05, 2011

Here's the first of what's sure to be at least two dozen "aw, wook how wittle it is" posts about our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport. Last night, I had to be somewhere right after work, and I knew the parking lot would be tight and crowded and that I would be running late. So I picked our Fiat 500 to drive.

We tootled along in traffic for 30 minutes, and the 500 proved to be a ho-hum companion for that activity. Acceleration is noticeably less energetic than our long-term Mazda 2 (which was nearly a second quicker to 60 mph in track testing, although we've only tested a short-term silver Cinquecento at this point), and there's always a muscle-memory recalibration period for the Fiat's clutch, which engages too high in the pedal travel for my taste.

But whatever, I arrived at my destination a minute or two late, and this was the last space remaining. No problem.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 2,184 miles

2012 Fiat 500 vs. The World

May 05, 2011

There seems to be a glut of "Fiat 500 vs." videos so for your convenience, here are some of the best, including that viral video of a Fiat racing a Porsche 911 Turbo.

I love these Top Gear vs. videos.

Fiat 500 Sport vs. Mini One: Guess who has a quicker lap time?

Fiat 500 vs. Nissan Micra (jump ahead to 4:26 for the cutesy driving test)

Fiat 126 vs. Porsche 911 Turbo: OK, this isn't even the 500 in this video which went viral, but still fun to watch these mismatched competitors go head to head.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Electronic Throttle Warning Light?

May 06, 2011

Got the warning light on the dash for the electronic throttle both going home last night and again this morning. (Though you can't see it in this picture.)

This must be a fairly frequent occurrence, because the owner’s manual advises to simply pull over and reboot by switching off ignition and restarting. This solved the issue for me as well, though I actually didn’t read the manual before I got back here. The manual advises a visit to the dealer only if the light stays on.

The episode yest aft also involved some slowing down while cruising, which is what led me to see the warning light. So maybe there are some consequences to whatever is going on. Caught the light early while leaving San Pedro, so didn’t note any decline in throttle response.

No panic, but we might keep it in mind for the first service. See what kind of error codes they find. Maybe it's just me, since I brake with my left foot and there's some inevitable overlap when both the brake and throttle are engaged at the same time.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 2,175 miles

Fixed Seat Adjuster

May 06, 2011

"We're sorry you had to drive all the way down here, but..." I've been at the new super Fiat / Chrysler / Dodge dealership, Motor Village LA (unfortunately close to USC) for less than ten minutes and things already aren't going well, "...we can't find your part. We don't even know where the Fiat parts are stored yet."

The seat lever for our 2012 Fiat 500 broke early in our testing and took about two weeks to get in. Shorter, actually, than I thought. But when I got to the dealership on that Saturday, the part was nowhere to be found and, surprise, the parts manager doesn't answer his cell on weekends.

This was a bit of a surprise as Motor Village is the same dealership that used to be on La Brea. I had to deal with them for our LT Dodge Ram and LT Dodge Challenger. There were still some familiar faces even though they'd moved downtown. They were good to me and were always on the ball. I was a little disappointed.

So, they got my car out of the bay and I pulled away...when I remembered something.

I didn't order the part under Edmunds, I ordered it under my last name (which I hadn't given them). I pulled back in and asked them to check again. Fifteen seconds later they had part in hand.

Fifteen minutes later, the car was done. I didn't even have time to finish my coffee.

And ya know, once the handle was fixed and I could explore the range, it turns out the Fiat was broken in exactly my driving position. Should've left it....

Total Cost: $0.00

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor,

Happy Birthday, George

May 06, 2011

In celebration of George Clooney's 50th birthday today, here he is in a Fiat commercial which naturally takes place on the shores of Lake Como, near his home. True, it's not the 2012 Fiat 500 in the ad but rather the Idea microvan, but who cares? It's Clooney and he's now the big cinquanta. That's a 0 away from Cinquecento, no? OK, I just wanted an excuse to put him in this blog. But at least there's a tall, leggy girl in there for those who prefer that instead. You're welcome. And happy birthday, George, wherever you are.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Is It Just for Girls?

May 06, 2011

Photo from Gucci site

Judging from your comments in the intro post of our 2012 Fiat 500, a lot of you believe it's a "girl's car." Well, considering they came out with this pink "ode to Barbie" version in January and the Fiat 500 by Gucci this week, you may be on to something. Squeee! It's so cute and stylish!

The Fiat 500 by Gucci is available in white or black and has chrome accents, 16-inch alloy wheels, and the signature Gucci green-and-red stripe wrapping around its sides. In the interior there are two-tone leather seats, glossy black trim and Gucci badges galore. One of the models is even equipped with Gucci green rear brake calipers. The designer brand also sells a line of clothing and accessories to complement the car.

For those whose wives may prefer Gucci to the Abarth model, this Fiat is on sale through June 30 and starts at $25,350.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Nice, Little Car About Town

May 09, 2011

Sitting at the car wash this morning, I heard these two guys going on and on about how shiny their boots were. One guy was at the moment getting his boot shined. I started to tune them out when I then heard one of them say, "Look! It's the new Fiat!" I looked up in time to see our shiny, red 2012 Fiat 500 Sport emerging from the car wash. The guy then giggled as it was driven around the corner to get hand-dried. "Niiice!"

And I have to say, it does look niiice. Driving it around LA this weekend, I kept catching people smiling at it — while sitting at a stop light, while passing them on the freeway, while parked at the side of the street. The same sort of reactions our old Smart Fortwo garnered. But thankfully, unlike that microcar, this one is actually a blast to drive. Having stick and a sport mode helped immensely. It's so go-karty and you get the get-up-and-go when you need it.

I loved the Fiat for getting around the city. Parking was no problem, negotiating traffic was a cinch (easy clutch), it wasn't as scary to drive on the freeway as the Smart was and, as I said, it's a blast to drive. It's perfect for the likes of me: a single girl with a dog (she'd fit nicely in the backseat).

Only issues would be that the gearshifter, especially with the chrome, feels chintzy and I didn't like how 3rd gear could easily be mistaken for 1st. I wasn't the only editor who made this mistake. Otherwise, fun, little city car.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 2,353 miles

Fits Me to a T

May 10, 2011

Last night I drove our Fiat 500 Sport for the first time.

Today I want to buy one.

I've had terrible lower back problems for the past couple of years, and I after a few miles even the most plush seats in super luxury cars can make me squirm uncomfortably.

Not so with the little Fiat. It was as if the seat was fashioned out of a weight-absorbing sling, while the seating position allowed me perfect access to the pedals, steering wheel and center-console controls.

Can't tell you the last time I did my 100-mile round-trip commute in such comfort.

Crazy, no? I hardly believe it myself.

Better drive it again tonight, just to make sure...

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 2,436

Want to Drive It?

May 10, 2011

This is for those people who don't check Edmunds Twitter or Facebook — you're out there, I know it.

For the rest of you, I'll spare you the long-winded explanation and get to the point: We liked having some of our readers come out and drive the Lexus LFA so we're toying with the idea of letting someone drive our Fiat.

Can you drive a manual? Do you live in/near LA (or going to be out here)? Want to see what the Fiat 500 is like while I record you? If so, go to the Edmunds Facebook page message us on Twitter and tell us why we should pick you by noon tomorrow.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor,

Well, That's Different

May 11, 2011

The first few times I drove our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, it took some getting used to what with all its quirky ways of doing things. For instance, I don't want to admit how long it took before I gave up looking for the tripmeter button and grabbed the owner's manual instead. For the record, you can't even see that stalk sitting behind the steering wheel like that, so I don't care how clearly marked it is. So there. Heh.

This has already been pointed out but the tach in the speedo. I kind of like it, space-saving and all that. But I know others don't, finding it confusing and distracting.

Check out the driver-side convex mirror. So Euro. It takes some getting used fact I'm still not used to it being there. We have them on our Chevy Traverse (remember that car?), too, but I always find them too tiny to be useful.

And thanks to this screen on our sunroof, it's perpetually sunny in the Fiat. Not a fan, especially during those really hot, sunny days. "Is that the scent of hair burning?"

OK, this doesn't take getting used to but I was surprised that the Fiat even had a Hill Start feature. Gawd, I love this feature. Don't know why anyone would want to deactivate it.

Other space-saving quirks that I had actually video'd but for some reason didn't come out are that the door handles serve as the door locks and the A/C button is actually the knob for fan speed.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 2,458 miles


May 11, 2011

What do you think of this display on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport? Too much info crowded into a small space? FYI, you have the option to display the speed or not. And the trip info has to be clicked to as it's not readily shown. In any case, I was surprised how easy this was to read. Sure, it's a lot of info all over the place but you get it after awhile, I credit Tweetdeck (Twitter platform for those who don't know).

By the way, that digital speedo actually matched the speed displayed on the regular speedo. So that's something.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Key Fob Quibble

May 12, 2011

See the icons on the buttons that lock and unlock our longterm 2012 Fiat 500? Of course you can, this is a best-case photo, all zoomed in, awash in light and angled so that the shading shows the relief.

Out in the real world those icons are hopelessly invisible, small and too same-y. I invariably hit the wrong button if I don't hold the key fob up to my face and position it to and fro, turning and twisting to try to catch any available light so that I can tell with certainty which button is which.

This Fiat key fob dance is surely entertaining for onlookers.

Each time it happens I get more annoyed. The breaking point is this blog entry.

This certainly is not A Big Deal, and over time an owner might adjust to the location of each function without looking. But would it have killed them to make the buttons look distinct at a glance from the hip? Contrast the icons in white color, or something. Anything.

That old-school 'Fiat' logo is, however, rad. Italian design often hits hard and misses equally hard, and this key fob is an example of both.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

The (Fixed) Seat Adjuster

May 13, 2011

Sorry, kids, when I posted the "hey, we got the Fiat 500's seat adjuster fixed and it was free and easy and the dealership is still as friendly as it was before Fiat" blog, I did not post a picture of the fixed lever. Uhm, it was my first day at this? Sorry, bad move.

Anyway, here it is. And you'll notice, it's not some skimpy thing, it's actually fairly solid and if you look where it actually broke, it's a little surprising. It's not on the bend, or where there's a seam or a detail. Nope, it just snapped in the middle of what could be the thickest part.

Go figure.

and as a reminder....

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor,

Is it Just Me?

May 16, 2011

There's a lot to like about our Fiat 500. One of them is the interior door handle. You give the handle a little push and it exposes a little red indicator, locking the doors. Unlocking and opening the door is accomplished with one tug of the handle. Nice. Another reason I like it is because it gives me a chuckle, because it looks like...

Bathroom humor, I know, but at least it's clean.

In all seriousness, I found the 500 to be a delightfully zippy little car as I ran errands all weekend. It's just enough power to have some decent fun and turns a lot of heads. It's still a bit of a novelty, much like the Mini Cooper was when it first started showing up. People give me friendly waves and smiles as they see it, and the appeal seems to cross a lot of demographics. I suppose this will all die down once we start seeing these on a regular basis.

I'd really be interested to drive the Abarth version of this, though.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Ancora Piu Piccolo Nonno

May 17, 2011

Unless you're fluent in Italian (no, I'm not despite my last name), I'll save you from using Babel Fish. The romantic title of this blog means "even smaller grandfather". Yes, the new Fiat 500 is simply minute — this thing is seven inches shorter than a new Mini Cooper! But have you ever seen its Nonno?

Check out this kitchy Italian commercial for the very first Fiat Cinquecento and try not to smile. Introduced for 1957, it was just 117 inches long and weighed only 1,100 pounds. And it supposedly could transport four adults. At 139.6 inches long and tipping the scales at 2,363 pounds, the current base model 500 is nearly two feet longer and weighs over twice as much as the original. Of course, modern day necessities such as air conditioning, power everything, an audio system and airbags galore tend to add some weight, as does a more robust structure that provides greater safety and handling/ride dynamics...

Giovanni DiPietro, Automotive Editor

Playing With Colors

May 17, 2011

Out of boredom, I decided to build my own 2012 Fiat 500 using the Fiat site. I love checking out this feature on different car sites. It all started with customizing my own Mini on the Mini site. Anyway, was going to play with the different Fiat colors, of which they have 14, when I noticed the nifty special effects transitioning between each color.

Yeah, I'm easy to please, but I just thought it was slick. And as I said, I like going on different carmaker sites and building my own car and this was the first time I've seen this effect before.

In any case, I was disappointed that they didn't have this baby blue color available. Pout.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Cherry Picking Easter Eggs

May 18, 2011

Okay, this is cherry-picking, but I am the first to show the "500" in the Fiat's headlamp surround. Obviously, there are many other examples of branding in unusual places. Remember this one? Got any more?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 2,761 miles

Freeway Ride

May 19, 2011

Click through to watch and hear our new 2012 Fiat 500 Sport on the infamous 405 South in Los Angeles: Although the tire thump is a little loud, the car shows decent damping characteristics. [Note: the ride qualities remained the same throughout the section of freeway and the side-to-side wiggle near the end was me, not the car, losing composure.]

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 2,834 miles

Roof Screen Is Good for Something

May 20, 2011

Since it was a gorgeous day, I decided to open up the sunroof of our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport. Yeah, I dislike the fact that there's only a screen instead of an actual sliding panel to cover your head, especially on oppressively sunny days, but I do like how the screen, when the sunroof is open, makes me feel less exposed to the elements, bees, etc.

I had to drive with the windows down a bit instead of merely cracked a smidge to prevent that interior air thump but not a big deal. And the screen doesn't reverberate with the wind, so that's something of note.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 2,869 miles

Our Favorite Caption

May 20, 2011

Thanks to speedynk for this week's favorite caption?

Here are the others that busted our gut:

Chicks dig me! (ralphhightower)
Show us your Headlights! (oldchap)
Is this some kind of bus? (ergsum)
Hey, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is back in town! (ergsum)
Topolino meets the Bimbolimo (noburgers)
I see you've upgraded your headlights. No, mine are stock. (ms3omglol)
With today's gas prices, these are Girls Gone Sensible. (wshuff)
Fridays at Edmunds are really casual. (stovt001)
Keeping abreast on the latest rides in town.
And the Fiat carries just as many airbags... (vt8919)
Fiat 500C: Take your top off. (finn4723)
Show us your Naples! (finn4723)
Objects in mirror may be looser then they appear (carguy949)
Bosom buddies. (ergsum)
Fiat: imported from silicone valley. (ms3omglol)
I told her I drive something that's red, Italian, and starts with 'F' and she said she'd be back with some friends... (deagle13)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can select one of these three prizes:

- Mercedes key fob flash drive
- Top Gear Season 14 DVD or Blu-ray
- Top Gear puzzle book (not for kids)

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

May 20, 2011

For some reason this bus was parked outside our office. Automotive Editor James Riswick happened to be in the right place at the right time and snapped this photo of our Fiat Gone Wild.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Too Small for My Dog?

May 23, 2011

I took my dog Mya for a spin in our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport and loved how easy it was to pet her on the head from the front seat as well as get a hold of her to buckle her in that backseat. But getting her in and out of the car was another matter. Since the front seats don't fall forward enough and she's a bit portly (65 pounds), I had to have her step on the front seat to get in and out. Not my favorite option since that means I have to cover the seats so she doesn't muss them up. Plus she has a difficult time squeezing between the two seats. Oh well, Mya, we at least have the Juke for a fun city car you can ride in.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

We Let the Readers Drive

May 30, 2011

A few weeks ago, we had the bright idea to let a couple of our readers drive a 2012 Lexus LFA. It went well enough (read: I wasn't kidnapped) that we decided to do it again, but with something decidedly less expensive: our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport.

This was an interesting one as most Americans are still, on the whole, unfamiliar with very small cars and with the exception of some car guys who've been around the block a few times, even fewer are familiar with the Fiat brand. So we put the call out onto our Twitter to find two people in the L.A. area who wanted to drive a Fiat.

Emily and Joe struck a chord right away. For one, they came as a pair — that makes it easy on our part — and second, Emily was actually looking to buy a new small car and the Fiat 500 was on the list. Within days, they were in our offices to drive the Fiat.


The Fiat 500 was not what I expected. Yes, I knew it was tiny and what the ladies would call "Cute", but it was not a typical car in that price range. Walking up to it for the first time makes you a little nervous 'cause it is so tiny. It was next to a Ford Ranger and the Fiat made the ranger look like an F250. But once inside everything changes. It seems so much bigger when you are inside it. Even crammed in the back, which if Emily wasn't 5 foot 1 (and a half, she'd kill me if I didn't point out the half) I probably would not have had anyplace to put my legs, it still felt bigger than it is. Driving it was also a huge surprise. This car is no Mustang GT or Golf GTi by any means, but it is fun! The car always felt planted on our drive up the PCH. Again, I may sound like a broken record, but it felt like a much bigger car! Also, I dig a chunky soft steering wheel and the 500 has a great one. Grippy and wrapped in leather. better than some high end cars.

There are some negative points. The open sunroof is noisy as hell. The seat height adjuster didn't seem to raise or lower the seat at all and felt cheap. I was warned about the radio interface...I tried to play with it but just got confused. And if you don't know the person in the front passenger seat when you get in, by the end of the trip you will be close, close friends. (BTW, Mike has soft knees. I think he exfoliates).

Would I buy one? Yes, in a second, but 85% of my driving is in the city and that's where this car excels. If I had a 75 mile freeway commute to work everyday, I'd buy something else. But since I usually drive and park in L.A., sign me up! And a huge shout out and thank you to Michael Magrath and everyone at Edmunds for letting Emily and I steal their Fiat for a day!

....but Joe was just along to see what a Fiat was like, Emily might want one of these, here's what she has to say.


When I saw the Fiat 500 for the first time, I was surprised by how small it was. Now, I knew it was going to be small. I just didn't realize HOW small. Parked next to a compact car, it makes the compact look large. Looking under the hood only underscored this impression; everything was compressed and stacked on top of itself. For a girl who can barely figure out where to put the oil, it would definitely take me some time to figure out the engine layout. It certainly was like none other I had ever seen.

Once in the driver's seat, though, the car didn't feel quite so small — at least not to me. In fact, I had a hard time reaching the clutch to push it in fully — even with the seat as far forward as it would go. Caveat: I am short at 5 foot 1. This would have prevented me from purchasing a manual. Otherwise, the front seat seemed sized just right for me. Even pulled all the way closest to the steering wheel, I didn't feel as if my nose was pressed into the center of it. For the other passengers, however, the front passenger seat seemed a bit small and while the back seat didn't feel too small while sitting in it (for me or the other passengers), getting in or out of it was a real operation. I had to back my way out — not exactly a graceful way to exit.

Seating space aside, the inside felt sleek, European, modern and expensive. However I have since read and heard that various knobs and handles have had a tendency to break off very easily. Noting the problems that Fiat has had in this area in the past would give me a moment's pause. Another moment of pause was the lack of convenient place to put my purse if there is a passenger in the car. While that may seem like an inconsequential problem that would only affect women, I would say that lots of men carry bags and it is nice to have access to your wallet while you are driving instead of having it stuck in the trunk (whose size and layout is about what you would expect and thoroughly acceptable given that the seats fold down.)

Another issue I had with the Fiat was the sunroof. The cover for the sunroof was not solid. It was like a piece of partially sheer curtain. In Southern California, this equals a very, very, very warm car. In addition, when the sunroof was open it was very loud and would certainly inhibit conversation or the ability to listen to the radio. While my thoughts can be entertaining, they are not enough to get me through a long drive.

Driving the Fiat 500 was a fun experience. It was kicky, responsive, had good maneuverability and felt like driving a much higher end car. I liked driving it a lot. It would take some time to learn how to check the blind spot, however, because the positioning of the window made it impossible to see anything if you turned your head to check if there was a car there. You would have to rely solely on the side mirror — which did have an addition to the mirror that extended your view around the back of the car, like large semi trucks have. I definitely didn't have the hang of that during the test drive, but it could potentially be a very useful and safety enhancing feature.

Now all of this is really only a long way of getting to the real issue: would I buy this car or not. Yes, I am in the market for a compact car in this price range. Yes, I was very excited to drive the Fiat 500. Yes, I really enjoyed driving the Fiat. It was fun, felt expensive, and it's funky styling made the Mini Cooper look like yesterday's news. However, I think I will most likely go in another direction given a few key deciding points: First of all, I am concerned with Fiat's track record in the US and lack of track record in the US with this model. My last new car was a lemon and I'm overly concerned with purchasing a reliable and easy to fix car. Secondly, while it's compact size makes me feel like it was built for someone "me" sized, I worry about the lack of safety record for this vehicle in the US. Thirdly, the fact that the car would be a sauna in the summer — which is pretty much most of the year in Southern California — concerns me. Traffic is bad enough without broiling in the process. And finally, the car just didn't "sing" to me. I know this is an ineffable quality, but it is powerful enough to make all of the little irritations with the car go away. This may not help anyone else out there, for which I apologize, but the best thing to do is to drive it yourself and see if it's song is loud enough for you to hear above the sunroof. Happy Driving — Cause it's going to be fun! Thanks to Michael Magrath and Edmunds. It was a great test drive.

Playing Hooky

June 01, 2011

I edited a few news stories from home this morning, and didn't get on the road to the office until around 10:00 a.m. The sky was bright and sunny, the Fiat 500 so zippy — I was seriously tempted to ditch and head to the beach instead.

I never felt that way driving a Mini. And definitely not while peddling the Smart. But something about the 500 boosts my mood a few clicks on the spirit index.

What car makes you wanna ditch work for play?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 3,150 miles

An Enjoyable Diversion, But...

June 02, 2011

I can't decide how I feel about our long-term 2012 Fiat 500. I haven't warmed to it like Kelly has, yet I'm intermittently drawn to it. Partly, it's the size of the car, because I end up choosing it on nights when I know parking's going to be a problem (not shown above).

But equally, it's the car's personality. The 1.4-liter engine doesn't give you much torque to work with, so you end up beating on it a bit just to get around in city traffic and on the freeway. Fortunately, both the revvy little engine and the chassis are up for that. Abrupt inputs don't upset the chassis, and the electric steering is pretty decent — pretty quick ratio with better feel than I expected.

Yet, the Fiat feels a bit more like an appliance than I'd like. For me, it's a noticeable step down from a Mini Cooper.

Although the ride is reasonable, as Chris has shown, it's not as composed as the Cooper — and there's not much anyone at Fiat could do about that given the 500's shorter wheelbase and narrower track. I also prefer the Mini's firmer overall suspension tune (less body roll, more aggressive damping) when going through corners. Plus, I really like the Mini's direct-injected 1.6-liter engine. And the driving position is far better for me in the Cooper because there's telescoping steering wheel adjustment.

Of course, a base Mini Cooper equipped the way I want it (Sport package, Sport suspension, Convenience package) would cost almost exactly $3,000 more than our long-term Fiat 500 ($19,200). That's not an insignificant difference, but for me it would be worth it.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 3,173 miles

Long Distance Drive

June 03, 2011

I put about 250 miles over five hours in our Fiat 500 yesterday. This could very well be its longest trip so far. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the way the 500 drove on the freeway. For this class of car, the ride is pretty comfortable. I was also expecting a lot of fore-and-aft chop due to the short wheelbase, but that never materialized. Wind and road noise are elevated, but they're certainly not excessive. The bar-stool-like driving position is awkward, but after the five hours I have to admit I was still comfortable. (The folding armrest on the right side of the seat helped.)

There were really just two downsides in my opinion. One, the 500 is susceptible to cross winds, a likely result of its profile and light weight. Also, it won't come as a surprise that there's not a whole lot of power from the 1.4-liter engine. So either drive it like you stole it, or just relax and enjoy the scenery.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

As if a ForTwo and New Beetle Hooked Up and Had a Baby

June 06, 2011

The Fiat 500 is all-new (for America, anyway) and comes after a 27-year absence for the company. You might think that the driving experience would be pretty novel. It is. But if you've spent any time with a Smart ForTwo or VW New Beetle, you'll also find some similarities.

Like the Smart, the 500 is petite in the way that only a European city car can be. If you've got a passenger, hopefully you won't mind sharing personal space. Also like the Smart, people are always staring at you when drive it, as if you warped in from Veridian III. They're also always staring down, because they're invariably driving comparatively gargantuan Chevy Suburbans and full-size pickups.

The staring can get awkward (maybe I should just flip them off; would that be the Italian thing to do?), so instead I just keep my eyes ahead. Here, the 500 reminds me of the New Beetle. It has a deep dashboard and rounded greenhouse evocative of the Beetle, and the climate controls are similar. Oh, and there's that whole cute vibe thing going on.

Thankfully, the Fiat 500 seems to have avoided getting most of the bad genes. There's no herky-jerky transmission from the ForTwo or the possibly claustrophobic feeling from the Beetle's high beltline. There's also the 500's backseat, which beats the ForTwo simply by existing and isn't too far off from the Beetle's in terms of roominess.

Finally, the 500 is more cheerful than either one. Not something you'd expect from the spawn of two Germans.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 3,503 miles

Hill Holder Is Useful

June 07, 2011

With a few exceptions, greater Los Angeles is about as flat as Keanu Reeves' acting. So having a hill holder feature on a car here doesn't come into play very often. (A hill holder keeps your manual-transmission car from rolling backwards as you start up an incline.) Even so, I noticed our Fiat 500 has this feature as I was inching up this metered freeway on-ramp.

Of course, you can use the parking brake to prevent roll-back. But for a car that's meant for city use (or perhaps more likely to be owned by younger/less experienced drivers), it's a thoughtful thing to include.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Get an Espresso and a Fiat

June 08, 2011

The buying process for this little Euro-mobile was as unique as the car itself. We saw the Fiat 500 at auto shows for more than a year so we knew we wanted to be one of the first to own it. Usually, that means getting on a list of interested buyers and paying ridiculous over-sticker prices. But when I called Joel Nelson, general sales manager for Motor Village LA he said there wasn't going to be any of that kind of nonsense. He took our order (Sport, with a sunroof and the Safety and Sound package), we paid a $500 deposit and waited.

Over the next two months, Nelson kept us posted on the 500's status as it moved from the factory in Toluca, Mexico, to a freight train and finally to the dealership. On a hot Friday morning in early March I drove down to sign papers and get our new car with Ron Montoya.

Motor Village LA is a tall, brick building just off the jammed Harbor Freeway — a great way to advertise to all the people stuck in traffic. Next to the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Dodge Ram nameplates on the side of the building is the rather incongruous looking round, red Fiat badge.

This separation continues, in fact, as a different door leads to the Fiat showroom on the upper floors than to the domestic brands on the ground floor. In the entry way they have one of the original Fiat 500s looking more like a radio controlled model car than something you'd actually climb into.

The showroom was still being finished as we walked in but it was already lined with a row of brightly colored Fiats. It also has a café where it's easy to imagine high fashion Romans sipping espressos and lattes while discussing the meaning of life. Nelson greeted us and turned us over to Fiat Specialist Edwin Arredondo who escorted us through the buying process. He took us up the roof where there were Fiats parked all over the place. The salesman told us that two of them, with the Prima Edizione badge on the side, belonged to Jay Leno.

Nelson says that the Motor Village LA Fiat dealership is often the first or second in sales every month, selling about 40 during that time. Initially, Nelson said that only Fiat purists were the ones who were buying the car. "They knew everything about the 500. And if you didn't pronounce the name of the town in Italy where such-in-such happened, they didn't think you knew what you were talking about." But now, Nelson says, it's more diversified. Recently, a mother and daughter came in shopping for a fuel efficient economy car and bought the 500.

To sign the paperwork we were escorted to the finance and insurance office which felt distinctly un-European. Ron commented, "No matter what you buy, you always wind up in the F&I room." A very professional woman presented an intimidating array of forms, documents and contracts. Since we'll only have the car a bit over a year we turned down the extended warranty and all other extras that were offered. We handed over a check for $21,451 (the sticker price of $19,200 plus taxes and fees) and headed outside to get our car.

We needed to do one more thing before we left — get a shot of the 500 in front of the dealer. Motor Village LA is located on Figueroa Street just south of Los Angeles and the traffic through the area is vicious with little room to even stop for a second. So Nelson had a porter drive our Fiat 500 up on the curb for its beauty shot — another car buying first for me.

Separated at Birth

June 09, 2011

You can tell they're related because apparently neither driver can park. (In my defense, I edged closer on purpose for the photo.)

Incidentally, you can see a spec comparison of the 500 and Yaris on Edmunds here.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor


June 11, 2011 too small a display area. I generally like the interior design of the 500, but can't give them a pass for this ergonomic faux pas. Having a singular instrument binnacle is retro and cute and all, but its display is a mess visually and makes "at a glance" reading a bit tough.

Although you can eliminate the clutter and leave just the odometer display by pressing the "menu/esc" button, it'd be nice if said button instead allowed you to scroll through each display individually so that they could be shown on their own and in a larger format.

As it is, it seems that the designer was inspired more by his bowl of Alpha-Bits than by the goal of user friendliness.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

Different Kind of Fun

June 13, 2011

You know, I do like our Fiat 500. It's actually kind of fun to drive. But it's a different kind of fun than what you normally associate with cars, as it doesn't do burnouts or .98g on the skidpad or chill beverages in its center console.

For me, I just find the aspect of driving something that's not excessive appealing. Last night I picked up dinner in the 500 and it just felt right — nimble on city streets, easy to park and just the right amount of luggage space for the food in back. I didn't need anything more than that. It's sort of like what Chris said back in February about our Mazda 2 being sufficient.

But there's more to it than just being small. The 500 isn't an Aveo. There's personality to it thanks to the cute exterior styling (sorry, but that really is the best way to describe it) and cheerful interior. Shifting through gears with the windows down and the summer air blowing in, I really could picture myself driving through Florence instead of American suburbia.

Of course, if I'm picturing that, I might as well picture myself way better looking, fluent in five languages and driving in Florence to pick my super hot girlfriend who looks like Monica Bellucci. But still, the 500 is cool in its own way.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 3,650 miles

Thoughts on Fuel Economy

June 15, 2011

No surprise here, our Fiat 500 is one of the most fuel efficient cars in our fleet right now. As of last month's fuel update, it was fourth on the list behind the Jetta TDI, Fusion Hybrid and Mazda 2. But I was curious to see how it would fare with me since my driving style with economy cars is typically pretty conservative. The car is already slow, so why bother trying to go fast?

I filled up three times in the last week and a half. The results were 31.9 mpg, 36.5 mpg and a best-so-far 39 mpg. The first tank was a mix of drivers, so fill-ups two and three are more representative. The 36.5 mpg figure came from both city and highway driving, while the 39 mpg was nearly all highway. For the highway drive, my speed was typically about 75 mph, with the air-conditioning on. For reference, official EPA estimates are 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined.

So, yeah, you can get high fuel economy from the 500 if you want to. But I've had a lot of people ask me about fuel economy when they see the 500. There seems to be an assumption that because it's so small, you get really good fuel economy. But the thing is, you don't really gain all that much from the 500's smaller size. I could have been driving a Mini Cooper or Ford Fiesta (or our Mazda 2) and still likely gotten very similar numbers assuming the same driving style. All have 32 mpg combined EPA ratings.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

A/C Might Not Be Fully Up To The Task

June 16, 2011

So Dan's been driving around in 110-degree heat in the Cruze. I haven't encountered anything that high in the Fiat, only mid-90s. Even so, the 500's air-conditioning has seemed pretty mediocre on hot days so far. I've had to set it at the lowest temperature and the second fan speed to keep up. Warmer temperatures might be a problem. But this is just my initial impression. We'll know more come full-on, swamp-butt summer and more opportunities for opinion.

Incidentally, I'm not very fond of the 500's A/C button. It's a push toggle with the fan button to activate. But the illumination for the snowflake icon is white, so it's very hard to tell whether A/C is actually on or off. (It's on in the photo.) It'd be better if the light was a different color.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

I Like the Spotter Mirror

June 17, 2011

Our Fiat 500 has a blind-spot mirror on the driver side. It's a bit odd to look at initially since it's such an uncommon feature, but I happen to like it. It seems like a good idea, actually, so I'm curious why more automakers haven't adopted it over the years. (Ford is the major exception.) Of course more cars are coming out with electronic blind-spot monitors, but the mirror seems to work just as well.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

The Door Handle....Video!

June 17, 2011

So we've already established that the interior door handle in the 2012 Fiat 500 looks like a toilet flusher. Moving on?

The inspiration for this video was when I tried to unlock the door in the Fiat 500 and had absolutely no idea how to do it. Turns out, it's via the door handle. Push it in and the doors lock, pull it out to the detent and they unlock. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

So here's a video of it doing its thing

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor

Made for Paris

June 20, 2011

Just got back from a European vacation that involved getting driven around Paris. So glad I didn't have to drive myself considering how ballsy those Parisian motorists are. They really know the dimensions of their car and scooters, and if there's some contact it's not a big deal. Would never see such daring road skills in LA, where cars are status symbols and scuffed-up fenders are frowned upon. In any case, also saw quite a lot of 2012 Fiat 500s zipping around.

Considering the mad, fast-paced driving and tight spots, the Fiat 500 seemed like the perfect car for the City of Lights. Its go-kart abilities could keep up with the most impatient driver. Its size helped it tuck in nicely when stuck in the middle of a traffic circle as cars coming the other way try to scrape by. I thought the 500 was a great city car for LA but it seemed made for Paris.

Of course since there were nine of us in our group and all our luggage we rented a Citroen C4 and Mazda CX-7 to get around. Would have loved to taken a spin around Paris in the 500 though. With a local behind the wheel, naturally.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Easiest to Park

June 21, 2011

Every now and then I'll note how easy a car is to park in my cramped backyard. Most cars require a six-point turn, while others require more. Our Fiat 500 is by far, the easiest car I've ever parked at Casahashi.

A four-point turn was all that was required to get it into that spot shown above (the Genesis coupe was not there at the time). Perhaps some might ask how our much maligned Smart Fortwo fared. Well, it also only needed a four-pointer to park, but the jumpy clutch response made it a thoroughly unpleasant affair.

I'm pretty sure the record goes to a Nissan Xterra, since I lost count after subjecting myself to an Austin Powers-like pickle.

Honestly, though, I think I could do it in a zero-point turn. I can get a little speed up in the driveway, yank the e-brake and perform an offset 180 into that spot. There's just that problem of flat-spotting the tires. Oh, and the possibility that it could all go horribly wrong as I plow into my motorcycle shed. It'd make a helluva video, though.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Squeak, Squeak

June 21, 2011

The bad news is that our 500 has come down with a mysterious squeak. It appears to originate from the front passenger seat or thereabouts.

The good news is that it's audible only at very low speeds. Once the speedo climbs higher than 15 mph or so, the squeak gets drowned out by the 500's engine and tire noise.

Since I brought it up, engine and tire noise is noticeable, but not severe. In fairness, there aren't too many cars in this price range that can claim to have a truly quiet cabin.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Assume the Position

June 22, 2011

I thought it'd be an interesting exercise to drive our long-term Mazda 2 the day after I drove our Fiat 500. Now, I'm a big fan of the Fiat 500, with its Italian charm and zippy nature. But if I were to decide between the two for one of those ridiculous, "If you only had to pick between the two, and for the rest of your life on a deserted island" scenarios, I think I'd choose the Mazda 2.

The Fiat's driving position is very upright. It's almost as if you're driving a cargo van. With the sunroof rails cutting down on headroom, my hair is constantly brushing up against the headliner. At 5'10", I feel like I just barely fit.

The Mazda 2 has a more conventional driving position and I have no headroom issues with it. I also prefer the more laid back position when I want to have a few laughs on some twisty roads. On a longer trip, I also think I'd be more comfortable in the Mazda.

What do you prefer? Upright or laid back?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Reasonably Authoritative Horn

June 22, 2011

I was waiting to make a left turn at an intersection with a left-turn light. The light turned green. There was one car in front of me, and the guy behind the wheel was looking down and didn't notice that the light had changed. No biggie — it happens, and I'm probably more patient than most.

But after a moment or so, it seemed like he could use a gentle reminder to get a move on. So I lightly tapped on the Fiat 500's horn.

It was my first time using the horn. The 500 is such a cutesie car I kinda figured its horn would sound cutesie as well. A high-pitched little chirp. A reedy, cheerful toot. A playful, lighthearted beep.

But the horn sounds more dignified and authoritative than I'd expected. There's enough low end there to give it some meat.

Now, I'm not saying it sounds like it belongs in a truck or anything, but it's full-bodied enough to communicate your intentions with a certain amount of urgency.

And that's a good thing, when you want someone to look up and get moving at a green light.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 3,930 miles

Not Too Cute

June 23, 2011

When I got our Fiat yesterday, the first thing I did was show it off to my friend Dana, a fortysomething teacher, jewelry maker and gourmet cook. She gravitates to small, sporty cars: Her recent auto history includes her current 2004 Mini Cooper Hatchback and before that, a Honda Civic del Sol. That's why I thought she'd like the Fiat.

I was wrong.

She loved it. As in full-tilt, take-my-breath-away, oh-my-god-it's-so-cute loved it. We drove around for a few minutes and she cooed as she ran her hand over the red dash panel. She perched in the passenger seat, found it comfortable, stretched a bit to check the full legroom and had me put the car in Sport mode. More fun, we decided.

In addition to liking the Fiat's looks, she thought it rode more smoothly than does her Mini. She liked its height — an important factor for a small car on the truck-heavy Long Beach Freeway, a route she uses a lot. Looking up the stats later, I saw that the Fiat offers a hair's-breadth more height, front headroom, legroom and cargo space than does the current Mini.

"It's cute," she concluded at the end of our drive, using the word that will send thousands of potential male buyers running away from this car. "But it's not the kind of cute that some morning I'd walk out, look at the car and decide I hated it."

"So there's such a thing as too cute?" I asked.

"Yes. The Beetle is too cute. This is cute, but not chirpy."

There you go. A marketing slogan that Fiat is welcome to try out with an audience that's already predisposed to pinch the cheek of this car and take it home.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @4,004 miles

And So It Begins

June 27, 2011

While blundering around in the fog just after dawn at Cars and Coffee on Saturday, we had our first sighting of a Fiat 500 hot rod. Apparently just went into business about 15 minutes ago (in May, actually), and if the Web site is any guide, we'll soon be seeing more Fiat hot rods on the road.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor,

Turning Circle

June 27, 2011

Aw, look at that petite wheel. If the Fiat 500 were a dude, he'd wear a size 5 shoe. Anyway, as its dimensions suggest, the 500 gets you there with a tiny turning circle. Which, of course, makes it super-maneuverable.

Fiat 500: 30.6 ft.
Mini Cooper: 35.1 ft.
Ford Fiesta: 34.4 ft.
Mazda 2: 32.2 ft.
Honda Fit: 34.4 ft.

I think we have a winner.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

So How's It Selling?

July 05, 2011

Pair an affordable price tag with Euro charm and you can come up with something that's hard to resist — just ask anyone who's fallen for the Fiat 500, and as such, I'd expected the car to be all over Los Angeles by now. But I haven't seen as many on the roads as I'd anticipated, and the fact that people still do double takes when they spot our crimson Fiat is testimony to the fact that the little subcompacts are still a relatively rare sight.

Nationwide, though, the 500 is off to a decent start, despite a dealer network that still has a whole lotta growing to do.

June Sales
Fiat 500: 1,803
Mini Cooper: 2,487 (hardtop), 505 (convertible)
Mazda 2: 1,081
Ford Fiesta: 5,535

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

The Happy Car

July 07, 2011

True story: I was driving home last night on surface streets and stopped at an intersection to make a left turn. This guy in an oncoming black Benz CLK stuck his arm out the window and was looking at me.

"WTH is your problem, pal?"
I thought to myself. As he drove by I realized that he was smiling and giving me the Thumbs Up, just because I was driving our long-term 2012 Fiat 500.

The 500 seems to impart happy feelings to other drivers who just love the cuteness of it.
Perhaps there hasn't been a happy car like this since the new Beetle came out in 1998.

Is the Fiat 500 also fun to drive? Oh, hell no.
But if it gives the owners and other drivers happy feelings, then there's nothing wrong with that.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 4,500 miles Thumb courtesy of Ron Montoya

Our Favorite Caption

July 08, 2011

Thanks to kain77 for this week's favorite caption. Here are the others that make us giggle:

An amazing Fiat of autobatics! (ergsum)
The Italian Parking Job (ergsum)
And now, for the side impact test (jcotov)
Some Italian guy came in here with two big British heavies the other day. (hybris)
The Fiat 500 was customized with twin tourbus. (ergsum)
Tourin' Turin (aleclance)
Parallel parking: You're doing it wrong. (aleclance)
Unlike the buses, the Fiat is not labeled which color it is so we are going to assume it's green (rr811)
Hey, it FIATS! (wshuff)
They've got me comin' and goin'. (ed124c)
This is what happens when you park in two spots. (shaddai)
European's are always easier to talk into a 3-way (rayray633)
Park Assist Fail (noburgers)
Designed for the autostraddle (rotaryboff)
I like big buses and I cannot lie! (teampenske3)
Does the Fiat fit? (teampenske3)
Cinqueronized Parking (ergsum)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can select any of the items in my prize drawer:

- red fuzzy dice
- Top Gear Season 14 (Blu-ray only)
- GM Design paperweight
- Mercedes history DVD
- Hendrick Motorsports DVD

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption for July

July 08, 2011

Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt, my endless font of caption contest photos, sent me this picture of our Fiat pretending to be a sandwich, er I mean, panini.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

2012 Fiat 500's Smartphone Apps: Making It Easy To RTFM

July 08, 2011

It all started when I was trying to figure out what the "Radio off: 00 min" option meant on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport's audio menu. There's no clarification for it in the owner's manual. But an online search turned up a free Fiat 500 Vehicle Info app for smartphones (Blackberries and iPhones). Nifty!

With the app, reaching for the owner's manual is the easiest thing ever. No having to run down to the garage (which, here, involves an elevator ride and two flights of stairs) to retrieve the manual. You can peruse it to your heart's content while enjoying your Macchiato at the local coffeehouse.

Not only does it include "Instrument Panel" and "Vehicle Operation" (and pictures) from the manual but you can locate the nearest Fiat dealer using your smartphone's GPS, shop the Fiat Store, learn about Mopar parts, and call 24-hour roadside assistance with the push of a button/screen.

I also love that there's a search function. However, I still couldn't find out more about that "Radio Off" option. Hm. Anyone know? I must know.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 4,535 miles

Reach Around the Wheel

July 10, 2011

I drove the Fiat 500 for the first time over a recent weekend and, like Al Austria, I was both amazed and amused by people's reaction to the little Italian car. But unlike Al, I found it surprisingly fun to drive.

Since I primarily test technology in cars, I was more interested in the performance of the electronics than the mechanical aspects of the 500. The Bose system that's part of the $350 Safety and Sound Package option wasn't bad considering the price, but the iPod integration was maddening.

And after driving the Fiat 500 for several days I noticed something else that's very frustrating.

The reach around the steering wheel to adjust the volume was awkward for me. I'm not sure if this has something to do with my physique and seating position or the small size of the car. But I never noticed this in any other vehicle.

And I was really wishing for steering-wheel audio controls in the 500.

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

Hello? HELLO?

July 12, 2011

Despite living in L.A. for 11 years I still have a heavy Boston accent. Just ask my colleagues - they remind me periodically. Still, for the most paaht, I enunciate words clearly enough that I usually don't have a problem with in-car voice command systems. Not so with the 500's hands-free hook-up.

I was glad to see the Fiat features automatic phone book download, but noticed it got names mixed up several times. I would clearly command it to "Call Greg" and the disembodied lady would respond with "Do you want to call Brent?". And when I said "No", the system would just hang up on me, rather letting me repeat the name. Furthermore, when I was on a call, sometimes the folks on the other end complained about the clarity (or rather lack thereof) of my voice. One even said it sounded like I was in a cave. Maybe a better microphone for the system would help matters...

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor at 4,757 miles

Add a Zero

July 18, 2011

While out on our annual Fuel Sipper Smackdown, our beloved Fiat Cinquecento hit cinquemille miglia. I'm guessing it hit the milestone right after we departed Southern California, somewhere in the desolate landscape of Death Valley. That fun little Photochop above was Mike Schmidt's idea, and I thought it was brilliant.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Sitting Pretty at the Pump

July 18, 2011

Some drivers enjoy the game of getting great fuel economy. It becomes this wonderful challenge, a delicate dance with the throttle to achieve the most frugal result.

Sometimes I make this kind of effort, but to be perfectly honest, most of the time, my driving style is the exact opposite of fuel-efficient. The shocker is that despite my less-than-patient way with the gas pedal, I managed to beat EPA estimates in the little Fiat this weekend.

I racked up 83 miles, with 40 of those spent on the highway and the rest in city travel. My combined average fuel economy in the 500 was a pretty impressive 35.2 miles per gallon (and that figure represents my own calculations, not the rosy estimate offered by the car's fuel economy gauge). The Fiat's EPA rating for combined city/highway driving is 33 mpg.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 5,792 miles

Dwarfed By The Mini Cooper?

July 20, 2011

So I know the 500 is smaller than the Mini Cooper, but when I saw a Cooper parked on Wilshire the other day, I couldn't resist the urge to get the little cars parked next to each other for a visual comparison.

The Cooper is obviously longer and wider. Relative to the Cooper, though, the 500's cabin is roomier than you might think, in certain respects.

Front Head Room
Mini Cooper: 38.8 inches
Fiat 500: 38.9 inches

Front Leg Room
Mini Cooper: 41.4 inches
Fiat 500: 40.7 inches

Front Shoulder Room

Mini Cooper: 50.3 inches
Fiat 500: 49.4 inches

Rear Head Room
Mini Cooper: 37.6 inches
Fiat 500: 35.6 inches

Rear Leg Room
Mini Cooper: 29.9 inches
Fiat 500: 31.7 inches

Rear Shoulder Room
Mini Cooper: 44.7 inches
Fiat 500: 46.4 inches

Mini Cooper: 66.3 inches
Fiat 500: 64.1 inches

Mini Cooper: 55.4 inches
Fiat 500: 59.8 inches

Mini Cooper: 146.6 inches
Fiat 500: 139.6 inches

Cargo Capacity, All Seats In Place

Mini Cooper: 5.7 cubic feet
Fiat 500: 9.5 cubic feet

Maximum Cargo Capacity

Mini Cooper: 24.0 cubic feet
Fiat 500: 30.1 cubic feet

As far as cargo capacity goes, the 500 comes out on top, and by a pretty wide margin.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Behind the Scenes of a Photo Shoot

July 22, 2011

Editor Warren Clarke already compared the 2012 Fiat 500 to the Mini in a previous post but stay tuned for a comparison test between these two cute rivals. We took them up to some twisty roads in Malibu for a photo shoot last night. I'll save my impressions for the test, which is going to be written by our talented Erin Riches, but took some shots of our Fiat looking model perfect and at home in the hills.

Erin tidying up the Fiat's rear wheel for the photo.

No, that's not a paparazzo, that's our photographer Scott Jacobs.

Can you spot the Mini in this picture?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

No Skimping on the Seats

July 25, 2011

Take a look at these chairs — plump and shaped to properly support one's legs and torso. With their generous padding (especially under the knees), they make the Fiat 500 comfortable on longer drives as I discovered during a cruise up the coast.

However, a few of the taller staffers feel that the 500's seating position is just too high (even with the adjuster cranked down). At a towering 5'-5", I'll admit that was my initial feeling too. But after I'd logged some miles in Luigi, the seat height seems spot on. In a little runabout like the Fiat 500, sitting up and seeing over the stubby hood just adds to the car's nimble feel when you're dicing with city traffic or swinging it into a small parking spot.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

Fiat Launches iPad App

July 26, 2011

Fiat has joined Hyundai and Ford in being one of a few automakers launching iPad apps for their cars. Unlike Fiat's smartphone app, its free lifestyle Fiat Source iPad app features the 2012 Fiat 500 in a photo gallery showcasing four new artists — photographer, graffiti artist, graphic artist and an art collective Public School member. iPad users can also explore the 500 from every angle via an interactive catalog. In a magazine format, Fiat Source will be updated quarterly and cover other subjects like music, fashion and travel.

I dunno. Any Fiat 500 owners out there who are into this? Trying to think if I'd be excited about this if this was an iPad app for Mini. Meh.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Welcome to Glendora Ridge

July 26, 2011

For a couple of reasons, I found myself on Glendora Mountain Road (you know, the famous driving road) and subsequently Glendora Ridge Road on Saturday afternoon... in our long-term 2012 Fiat 500. Part of it was that I wanted to get a sense of the car's handling, part of it was that I'm not right in the head, and part of it was that I was meeting some friends up here and just happened to be driving the the Fiat for the weekend.

In the little car's favor are very good steering feel and surprisingly somewhat sticky 16-inch Continental tires.

There's at least a one-mississippi delay from the time you turn the steering wheel to the time when the car actually turns in, so as we've noted in previous testing, you kind of have to guess at steering input and then trust that the car will be fine with that and that the tires will stick. Understeer is the car's preferred cornering attitude, so this kind of driving really beats up on the front tires — ours were already showing significant wear even before the drive.

Of course, power is the main limitation on a road like GMR and later Glendora Ridge Road. At our pace, I could keep up through the turns, but the others ('06 MX-5 Miata, '04 WRX, '09 Mazdaspeed 3) of course left me for dead whenever the road straightened out.

On the Ridge Rd., the elevation is pretty constant, so it got tiresome to always be in 2nd gear... the little 1.4-liter MultiAir engine is smooth enough, but it's screaming by 5,500 rpm. So I'd upshift to 3rd and revs would drop back to 3,000ish and then I'd have no power. Uh, so, quickly blip the throttle, back to 2nd. This gap between 2nd and 3rd gears (2.16 vs. 1.35) slowed the car down during acceleration testing, and it's the reason I probably won't come back to GMR in a Fiat 500 until the Abarth model arrives.

That said, no afternoon drive on GMR is really a bad drive, and the steering feel alone makes the little Fiat more enjoyable than most other very small cars. Below I offer you a taste of the experience. First video shows some on-board footage I shot on Glendora Ridge Road (albeit with my camera angled too far to the side). The second video is a compilation shot by Tyler (stovt001) and Stacey Stover, who mounted a couple Flip cameras on their MX-5. It's really a video of the whole afternoon; you can see the Fiat following the Miata starting around the 2-minute mark.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,316 miles

Poco Italiano

July 27, 2011

I've been coming down with a case of wanderlust lately. More specifically, I've been dreaming of returning to my spiritual home, Italy. It's been four years since I've been and my Italian is probably a little rusty. And what a great language it is. So this morning, I had the idea of using our little Fiat as a language tutor.

I had these grand fantasies that the voice recognition would speak and understand Italian. Perhaps I could try to use all of the functions on my way into the office. Sadly, it seems like the only feature that can be switched over is the driver information center. Oh well.

By the way, "impostazioni" (pronounced eeem-po-stat-zee-oh-neee) is basically "settings" in English.

Mark Takahashi, Editore di Automobili

Spotted In The Wild

July 27, 2011

So I had my first Fiat 500 sighting a couple of days ago, near Fairfax and Wilshire. The car was red, the same color as our test car. It was being driven by a tall, burly guy who looked like he could have been a high school football coach or a contractor.

Sometimes big people look silly driving really small cars — a taller driver behind the wheel of a Smart Fortwo, for example, tends to look like he's been stuffed into a clown car. But that wasn't the case with this guy and the Fiat. The car didn't strip him of his dignity while he was behind the wheel.

Hooray for dignity.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

A Little Help Closing the Hatch

July 28, 2011

There's a dinky little nylon loop on the inside of our long-term 2012 Fiat 500's hatch. It's really only big enough to grab with your right index finger, but the hatch is so small and light that you actually can get the leverage you need to close it in one motion.

More importantly, the loop is riveted securely onto the hatch, so unlike with our Volvo S60's grab handle, I haven't broken it yet.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,396 miles

Over 150 Mopar Accessories Now Available

July 28, 2011

There are a number of ways to make a cute car less cute. Crashing it into a wall is a terrible way to accomplish the task, buying accessories to toughen it up, however, is a good way.

Take this new car-bra offered by Mopar, it takes the normally cute Fiat 500 and turns it into Hannibal Lecter.

It's one of over 150 options available for the Fiat from MOPAR that include (deep breath in): Roof and Hood graphics in U.S., Canadian, Italian and Mexican flags as well as a variety of race stripes and checkered and striped graphics ($319 - $534); Body-side graphics in a range of colors ($409 - $439); Body-side molding inserts $99; Roof Rack ($399); Bike carriers for the roof rack ($116) or hitch mounted ($99 for the receiver and $192 for the Carrier); UCONNECT Web ($399); Seat Covers, Slush mats, Chrome Shift Knob, Chrome Fuel door....and on and on and on.

One cool option is a $48 key fob cover. No idea why every manufacturer doesn't these in colors, but it's about time.

We already missed the boat on getting the Abarth, should we tweak our 500 with MOPAR options?

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Fiat Launches 'Simply More' Ad Campaign

August 01, 2011

Fiat has just launched its first advertising campaign since returning to North America and the new tagline is "Simply More."

The first television commercial for the new Simply More tagline is set to air today and has been posted on YouTube for your convenience. The ad "Drive in" features an Elvis tune, Jailhouse Rock, which was released the same year , 1957, as the Fiat 500 in Europe. Apparently Fiat finds this interesting as they've taken special care to point it out in a press releases. Whatever, the ad is, as you'd expect for a Fiat 500 commercial, pretty fun.

There are also a number of new slogans for the 500 for print ads, they are:

Form & Function meet. And begin a torrid affair

Bigger isn't better. It's just harder to park.

Life's newest simple pleasure.

139.6 inches. Every one tells a story.

One a scale from 1 to 10, it's a 500.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Word to the Wise

August 01, 2011

As you can see in this photo taken by Kurt Niebuhr, the Fiat 500's five-speed manual transmission has its Reverse gate situated way off to driver's right. There's also a pull-up ring to "unlock" the R gate. And you need a deliberate hand and, often, a teensy bit of throttle to avoid a slight grinding as you ease into reverse.

This arrangement is slightly unusual among U.S.-market econoboxes, and upon leaving the car with a valet at a local Italian restaurant on Friday night, Michael Jordan and I realized some preliminary instruction might be prudent.


... was what we heard 5 seconds after turning to our back to the car. I rushed back over, eyes wild, and ostensibly, the loud unhappy noise was the result of the valet not having pulled up the ring, maybe? Although (perhaps flustered by the sight of my waving arms), he also seemed not to be pushing in the clutch pedal and I had to remind him to do that, too. Eeek! He apologized immediately.

Still, when we picked up the car after dinner, I said, no, no, no need to bring the car around for us, we'll drive it out from here. It was a small lot, and the car was sitting 50 feet away, so no one raised a fuss.

And this incident reminded of why I usually try to self-park, street-park, whatever-park cars I really like (even if it means walking an extra 10 miles to a Vegas hotel room). Any other valet avoiders out there? Surely, you must be aching to share stories of incredible efforts you've made to keep your car out of the valet lock-up.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,318 miles

Don't Buy the Sunroof

August 02, 2011

When I climb into Fiat 500, I look like this. Yes I'm tall, but it's quite rare that I find myself into a car's roof like this. Now, this is a result of two things. The first is the tall seating position, which creates more than enough legroom. The second is the 500's sunroof (optional on our Sport model), that robs a few valuable inches of headroom. I fit without any problem in 500s without the sunroof.

Yet, since we annoyingly ordered our 500 with the sunroof, I've been forced to cope in these following ways...

Option 1: The Gangsta Lean

Sure, I look balla (ha!), but as I'm not rollin in an Impala, I'll just wish I wasn't as talla. OK, I'm done. Even with my right hand more appropriately on the tilt-only wheel, I'm too far away for comfort (and for being in proper control of the car).

Option 2: The Slouch

This works, but if I were to drive the 500 like this long enough, I'd probably have to resign my position here and retreat to a life living in a bell tower. Your mother told you never to slouch and she was right.

Now, what if you're not tall? Well, even average-heighted folks have commented that they feel uncomfortably close to the roof. And even if they don't, there's a second problem. The sunshade does little to actually shade you from the sun as the below picture shows.

Seriously, don't buy the sunroof. The 500 Lounge trim comes standard with it, but it's optional on the Pop and Sport. Skip it.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 6,753 miles

Howard Chooses a Fiat

August 02, 2011

Our Stephen Lee does his duty in the Vehicle Data department at He’s restoring a 1973 Innocenti Mini 1001, the version of the BMC Mini built under license in Italy, so we weren’t surprised when he went wild for the 2012 Fiat 500. But the big surprise came when we learned that his father had been thinking about shopping for one, as Lee tells us in a description of their adventure below:

Certain occurrences take place in our world regularly but infrequently. Halley’s Comet makes an appearance every 75 years or so. Fashion trends recycle about every 15. And now for the first time in 20 years, my father Howard plans to purchase a new vehicle.

Although neither celestial nor cosmopolitan, my father’s decision to buy a new car is monumental in its own right. First, Howard is a man who makes purchases based on necessity, not whim. Second, he doesn’t need a new car, since he’s been retired for twenty years, owns a pristine, low-mileage 1991 Mazda MPV, and prefers to use public transportation in San Francisco, where he lives.

Imagine my surprise when he expressed genuine interest in the new Fiat 500 and asked me to take him to a dealership. As a car enthusiast with a bigger wish list than budget or common sense, I immediately obliged while trying to hide my enthusiasm.

We cruised down to the closest dealership, Fiat of Fremont, an hour’s drive away from San Francisco. Several brightly colored 500s were parked outside the showroom and several more inside. The 500’s size or lack of it makes itself immediately apparent, as it’s a subcompact car in every sense of the term. Yet its tall height and large doors make for easy ingress and egress, a trait my arthritic father loves.

Inside the showroom, young salesman Steve Sokol meets us and we chitchat about our own cars for a while and then get down to business. It turns out the dealership’s inventory of 60 or so vehicles is composed of mostly mid-level sport-style models and many have additional options that raise the price sticker to around $19,000. Given a small inventory and high demand, it’s not surprising that cars are not being sold for less than the sticker price — not exactly a bargain.

It is surprising to hear from Sokol that the majority of customers are choosing to buy 500s with the manual transmission. Apparently such cars get snatched up quicker than free food samples at Costco and the dealership cannot keep them in stock.

All this begs the question: Why would my father want a Fiat 500, much less any new car at all?

The new Fiat 500 is a modern interpretation of the 500 Nuovo (the successor to the original Topolino), but without any of original’s defining characteristics. The second-generation 500 was a quirky rear-engine car with an air-cooled 2-cylinder engine, a car designed to move the masses of Italy as economically as feasible amidst the rebuilding post-war Europe of the late 1950s. The 2012 Fiat 500 is none of those things — neither particularly quirky, economical, or practical. For about the same money as a mid-range 500, my father can purchase an entry-level Hyundai Sonata or Toyota Camry.

Under some pressure, my father finally told me his true reason for wanting a Fiat 500, something he made clear later back home when he showed me some photographs from his youth in Hong Kong. As I knew, he had once worked as a mechanic and had ridden BSA motorcycles and driven a variety of very strange (to me, anyway) cars on the narrow mountain and coastline roads in the former British colony. His pictures reveal a Morris Minor, a Volkswagen Beetle, some kind of weird Simca sedan (what is it?), a Fiat sedan (what is it?) and finally a flashy MGB GT.

Five decades and forty pounds ago, back in his youthful days, my father and his friend also drove around everywhere in Hong Kong in a Fiat 500. With gleaming eyes and a warm smile, he tells me stories of how the baby Fiat with its anemic engine would struggle and then fail to get him and his friend up the hills. People on foot were moving faster, so ultimately the passenger would jump out and be a pedestrian for the sake of forward progress.

We both laughed and it was then that I realized that I was missing the point. My father doesn’t need the 2012 Fiat 500 because it’s the most sensible choice nor does he care that it’s nothing like the original. He wants it because the car makes him feel happy, and it would continue to do so even if it were to sit in the garage on most days and then be washed every week. It still brings back fond memories.

The story of Howard and the Fiat 500 shows us again that cars can give us sensations that nothing else can. A car can give us the exhilarating feeling of speed. It can awe us with the engineering marvel it represents. The lines of beautiful bodywork can hold us spellbound. To work on one gives us satisfaction. A car can even make us feel nostalgic as we reminisce about our unique personal adventures with it.

Maybe we are most sensitive to these things at both the beginning and the end of our lives, when practical considerations and family obligations are least influential, so our car choices are then the most personal. Judging by the high take-rate for the 2012 Fiat 500 with manual transmission, it might be that the next generation of 500 owners might have become (or already are) car enthusiasts.

Congratulations, Dad. Like it or not, you’re still a car enthusiast. We’ll pick up a Fiat 500 with an automatic transmission (light-brown Mocha Latte would be my color choice), as soon as the dealership in San Francisco opens.

Stephen Lee, Editor, Vehicle Data, @ 6,380 miles

Old and New

August 03, 2011

I knew the original Fiat Cinquecento was smaller than the new 500. I just didn't realize how big of a margin existed until I tossed this animation together this morning. Overall, the original is about 20% smaller.

At 5'10", our Fiat 500 fits me just fine. I can't imagine I'd be able to find an acceptable amount of comfort in the old one. And can you imagine Riswick in the old Cinquecento? I suppose he could open up that ragtop and drive with his head above the roof. Then again, I could also see him strapping one to each of his feet and using them as roller skates (wait, I think I need to Photoshop that).

Does anybody out there have any experience in the original Fiat Cinquecento? Please let us know how accommodating the interior is (or isn't).

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Errand Boy

August 04, 2011

Well, if you’re expecting some sort of pocket-size GTI, then you’ll just have to wait for the Abarth. Just saw an ad on the back of this week’s Autosport and there are three of them in Britain, all in pretty zippy specification. The U.S. version will be introduced at the L.A. auto show.

But there’s no sense acting all surprised that the Fiat 500 isn’t exactly the driver’s car of your dreams. It’s more like a Nissan Cube than a Mini Cooper, and it looks silly when it’s posing on a rural road instead of on a city street. When it comes to driving fast, it steers a little too quickly, reacts a little too much when you get into the brakes, and the suspension calibration has more springing than damping.

Instead this is a car that just takes you places. And this is way more relevant to the way real people really live than some wacky quasi-Italian hot rod with a stinger exhaust. (Abarth’s signature is the scorpion, you know.)

And the Fiat is pretty great at taking you places. It’s small, so you can park it anywhere, even those sneaky downsize parking slots that fill shopping mall parking, which are designed to meet the letter of building code requirements for an adequate store/parking space ratio but are strictly smurf-size (the automotive equivalent of classifying ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches).

The 500’s seating H-point is high and the doors are tall and broad, so it’s easy to slide in and out when you’re dashing around on errands. The rear hatch comes up quick, there’s enough room to throw in a couple things behind the second row seat, and you don’t have to jump into the air to get hold of the upraised hatch and close it again.

Finally the visibility is great and the steering effort is light, and if these things aren’t important to you, then you’ve never cruised a crowded parking lot, whether it’s the hardware store or the grocery.

Basically the Fiat 500C has lots of utility, even though it lacks lots of driving drama. But this is exactly what you want when taking the long way home means running five errands along the way, not taking a detour to hammer through a few of your favorite corners.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 6,850 miles

2012 Fiat 500 Sport Vs. The Black Lagoon

August 08, 2011

They say that sameness every day does your brain no favors. Something as simple as taking a new route home can help improve mental functioning by guiding you to use more of your mind.

New routes might be great for your brain but last night I discovered they can be hell on your tires.

1: A Dark Turn

It's Sunday night at about 9:15. The Walgreens nearby is out of bottled water. I'm okay with that — I'll get the water tomorrow. But then I change my mind and decide to get it at Ralph's. By then I've missed the turn on Pico, the street I usually take. So I head to the grocery store via a different, unfamiliar route — I make a quick left on Whitworth and drive a few blocks before making another left on La Peer.

La Peer is bathed in shadows and the pavement is wet even though it hasn't been raining. The darkness of the street plus all the water on the road conspire to provide the perfect hiding place for a gang of potholes, which lie in wait, like snakes concealed by tall grass. I travel just a few feet past the intersection when I feel it — the awful jolt you feel when rim hits crater.

I'm not going very fast, under 15 miles per hour — this takes place on a residential street and the ruts are so close to the intersection that there isn't time to gather speed after the turn. Still, the impact feels cruel and tremendous.

The 500 is such a cheery little car you don't think anything unpleasant can happen while you're driving it. The jolt takes me by surprise — it's like I've just witnessed someone kicking the cutest, most defenseless puppy.

Almost immediately after the impact, I get a warning on the dash telling me to check the front left tire. Fortunately I'm just a couple minutes from home and I make it there before the tire goes completely flat.

2: Second Look

After the 500 is safely in my carport I return to the black lagoon by foot, armed with my camera; it's a brisk 10-minute walk in the crisp night air. I snap a few photos and then notice a woman heading toward the potholes in an older Toyota Corolla. I flail my arms, trying to warn her, but she hits the potholes anyway, with a jolt that is all too familiar. She keeps going, though. I wonder if her tire survives the impact.

Another car approaches and by the way it gingerly skirts the chasm I can tell the driver lives on this street. He parks by a nearby curb; as he exits, I ask him if anyone has reported the potholes, and tell him they just gave me a flat. He doesn't answer my question about whether the potholes have been reported, but says they cause at least "one flat a month," and that he's sorry I damaged my tire.

3: Restitution?

Back home I go online to report the pothole. Via the City of Los Angeles website, I locate and complete an Online Services Request Form.

I think about filing a claim with the city for the damage. In cases where the pothole has already been reported and the city is aware of the problem, drivers may be entitled to some restitution. It might seem like a losing battle, but I find examples online in which those with wounded vehicles have won reimbursement. However, I can't find any examples of such drivers finding victory in the cash-strapped state of California.

My chances of success may be iffy at best but that doesn't stop me from deciding to file a claim. I locate a claim form on the City of Los Angeles site and resolve to print it, complete it and mail it to the Office of the City Clerk.

We'll keep you posted on how the claim develops. Please don't hold your breath. With all the city's furloughs and cost-cutting, I'm expecting the whole thing to be resolved sometime in 2032 or so.

Next up: the trip to the tire shop the following morning.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 6,880 miles

The Day After

August 09, 2011

The Fiat 500 is available with an optional spare tire. In U.S. models, the spare is stored not in the cargo area, but under the rear of the vehicle.

Our car has no spare, so the morning after its tangle with the black lagoon, I make arrangements to have it towed to Stokes, our go-to tire shop.

If our 500 had the optional compact spare, this is where it would be located.

1: A Little Yelp?

AAA tells me that my membership only covers towing on trips of 7 miles or less. Stokes is about 10 miles away so I decide to do some research to find a decent towing company. I turn to Yelp and choose a company with glowing reviews and a 5-star rating. I make the call and the dispatcher tells me a tow truck can be there in 15 to 45 minutes.

Fifty minutes later, the truck hasn't arrived, so I place a follow-up call. A different dispatcher answers and he tells me he has no record of my previous tow request. He says a tow truck can be there in 15 minutes, and 12 minutes later, the tow truck arrives. I'm thinking maybe not quite 5 stars, but whatever.

2: Trucking It

The tow truck arrives. Because of how low the 500 rides to the ground, it takes the driver about 15 minutes to carefully load it onto the flat bed. The driver is portly, capable and outgoing, and appears to be in his 50s; he moved here from Manila 17 years ago. Thirty minutes later we arrive at Stokes, and by then I've learned that he has a four-year old granddaughter and a two-year old daughter, and that he once towed a vintage Mercedes-Benz from car show to car show.

3: The Estimate
Later, our Stokes service provider calls and gives us the verdict: The tire needs to be replaced. One must be special ordered and delivery will take place the following day; we're told that we will be able to pick the car up by the end of that day. Our cost for the tire is estimated at $155.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 6,880 miles

The Day After the Day After

August 10, 2011

Today we picked our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport up from Stokes Tire Pros in Santa Monica. You immediately notice the new left front tire, as its edges aren't yet pounded to a partial pulp like the right front tire (no disrespect to the lagoon here, rather an inevitability when there's a small, Italian hatch in the fleet).

The replacement cost for one Continental ContiProContact, size 195/45R16 84H, was right in line with Warren's estimate — $145.95, which came to $163.45 with tax.

A low tire pressure warning is still coming across the trip computer marquee-style at startup (with the standardized "!" light remaining after that), but page 38 of the car's owners manual suggests it should extinguish on its own after 20 miles of driving.

And, oh by the way, a temp-size spare tire is a $91 a la carte option on the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, or $364 if you buy it as part of the Safety & Convenience package (auto climate control and an alarm system, plus the donut spare). Why the Fiat dealer wouldn't order them all this way boggles the mind until you consider the $20K psychological barrier... ordering them without the spare keeps the price comfortably below it, and perhaps provides some opportunities in the F&I room.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,886 miles

Brightens the Day

August 11, 2011

(Photo by Rex Tokeshi-Torres)

The 2012 Fiat 500 makes people smile. I don't know if they are laughing with me or laughing at me. But even if just for a moment, the 500 puts people in a better mood. I like that about it.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

Perfect for the Drive-In?

August 12, 2011

Fiat will be kicking off what I think is a brilliantly fun marketing campaign tomorrow: multi-city film events with the 2012 Fiat 500 providing the seating. On August 13 and 14 in New York's Central Park, movie goers will be treated to a double feature from the seats of 36 2012 Fiat 500 and 500 Cabrio models. Naturally the event will also have bocce ball, espresso and gelato to further enhance that la dolce vita experience. Love it!

The campaign is meant to get people to take a closer look at the Fiat 500 and clear up any misperceptions they have about small cars. "The best way to show people is to 'show people.' They're surprised to find there's a lot of space and to see the quality of finishes like leather and all the other content in the vehicle," said Head of Fiat brand North America Laura Soave (via AdWeek).

At least here there won't be any "Hey! Down in front!" issues.

The Fiat outdoor screenings will hit Chicago on August 19-21, Miami August 26-28 and Los Angeles September 3-5.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Nitpicking the Key Fob

August 15, 2011

Which one of these key fobs would you rather be holding on a dark night?

The one to the left obviously belongs to our Fiat 500. Love the classy-looking Fiat logo but I'm not a fan of the body-colored labeling that's impossible to read after dark. The one to the right belongs to our VW Jetta TDI, and it's labeled in a way that makes it easy to read both day and night.

I've learned to memorize the placement of the buttons whenever I'm with the Fiat (as most owners would). Still, there are times when I reflexively find myself looking at the fob for guidance, and if it's dark outside, glancing at the small chunk of black plastic in my hand provides no help whatsoever.

I've wondered if the decision to have the fob be body-colored is an aesthetic one on the part of manufacturers. If so, it's misguided, since there are fobs out there that manage to be both clearly labeled and attractive, like the one for our Volvo S60, shown below.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ ~6,880 miles


August 16, 2011

The Fiat 500 seems really small.

Until you're reminded how big it really is.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 6,965 miles

Do the Parents Fit?

August 17, 2011

This weekend my parents were in town but I forgot they were visiting and had signed out our short-termer Fiat 500C. Oops. So I ended up having to shuttle them around town in the backseat of the small car. Surprisingly, even though Mom and Pops (both 5'5") are about 160-170 pounds each they fit nicely back there. They still had elbow room and comfortable-enough legroom even with the front seats allowing enough room for the front passengers. Then again, my folks DO have short legs.

Since that was the drop-top 500 I wanted to see if it was any different from our regular 500 in terms of rear space.

But nope, their dimensions (in inches) are basically the same with the 500C offering a smidge more headroom.



Rear hiproom



Rear headroom



Rear legroom



Rear shoulder room



The only thing about driving parents around in the Fiat is that we couldn't really exploit its go-kart-ness. Not only because my parents hate it when I drive "fast" but the extra weight in the back made the car a bit sluggish anyway.

Also, since the front seats don't exactly allow a lot of room for backseat passengers to get out, it was a bit difficult for these senior citizens to exit the vehicle. However, holding my mom's big, ol' purse while I let her grab hold of my hand to help steady her eased the process.

They did like the car though, thinking it was "cute" and fun.

Funny small-car moment: When my dad got in the backseat and went to buckle up, he grabbed the driver's seatbelt from the B-pillar thinking it was his. OK, guess you had to be there.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 6,983 miles

Movie Star

August 18, 2011

I'm a movie lover, and Caroline's recent post about Fiat's plans to have drive-in events to showcase the Fiat 500 had me wondering whether the car played a role in the 1960 Federico Fellini film "La Dolce Vita," which Fiat evokes in various ways in its advertising and marketing. Yes, as it turns out. The Fiat 1100 Familiare, the 405 and the 500 B all appeared in the film (in minor roles).

How do I know this? It's not my keen eye for classic Fiats. The credit goes to the Internet Movie Cars Database. The Fiat 500 (old and new) has gotten a lot of screen time over the years. Above is a shot of a 1960 Fiat 500 from the classic (?) 1967 film "Oscar."

From "Letto a tre piazze," a 1960 Italian comedy, chockful of Fiats.

From "El 600 de la nostra vida," an Italian documentary.

What's your favorite starring role for a Fiat — or any other iconic car, for that matter?

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @7,043 miles

Low CDI Index?

August 19, 2011

Every now and then I find myself driving a car that seems to catch the eye of random females. Now, I don't keep a constant eye out for ladies checking out whatever car I'm driving, but situational awareness does sometimes cue me in that someone is indeed interested in it, and sometimes someone would strike up a conversation at a stoplight or parking lot. I was convinced that our Fiat 500 would be as irresistible to females as a basket full of puppies, but instead, it seems that our chili-red Cinquecento is as appealing to them as a Jackass marathon on MTV. What gives?

My girlfriend used to have a Mini Cooper S, so I figured the 500 would at the very least elicit a, "oooo, cute!" But no, she thought it was ugly. This began the drop of the needle on the CDI (chicks dig it) index. But it's not like I care, because I happen to like our Fiat. It reminds me if Italy, I think it's smartly styled and it's fun to drive.

Cars that rank high on the CDI index include the Audi S5, Audi R8, Kia Optima (seriously), Lotus Elise, our 2005 Corvette Z06, an S63 AMG and pretty much any Porsche 911. The biggest draw is still my 1957 Thunderbird. Even our Nissan Juke managed to turn a few heads and get a few smiles (though perhaps for different reasons).

I ran my Fiat 500 observations past Caroline and she looked at me as if I had three heads, and each of them were spouting gibberish. She said that it manages to draw a crowd sometimes and there's no shortage of female gawkers, but I have yet to witness this. In fact, my experiences have drawn more dudes (DDI index?), and older ones, at that. I don't get it. Perhaps I lost my mojo? No, wait, Magrath has had similar tales to mine, but I'll let him explain on his own.

In the end, it doesn't matter because I'm going to keep driving this car and enjoying it. But these observations are a bit curious, no?

I encourage our female commenters to chime in. Feel free to also list your high and low CDI (or DDI) picks.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Go Ahead and Nail It!

August 22, 2011

See that pedal on the right? Don't be scared. You can drive it down into the carpet.

Those of you that have ridden a sportbike know that you can rarely, if ever, pin the throttle in any gear: even in first, you're just going too fast for the street. (The test track is another matter, of course.)

Same for most road cars. Burying the throttle is usually reserved only for first gear or the track. Try wide-flat-out in most cars on the street and you will probably end up in jail. I tried it once in our Mustang GT 5.0, in first gear, and I barely touched the bottom before I had to back out.

But there are no worries about this with our long-term 2012 Fiat 500. You can bury the accelerator with impunity in first, second, and even third gear. This can be done not only on the highway, but on surface streets! And if you're merging or passing, you have to do this so you won't get left behind or squashed. It's an odd sensation, really.

And a reminder of how underpowered (101hp) this little arachide is.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 7,100 miles

Shaking Fist at You, LA

August 22, 2011

Warning: Generalizations and grumpy language ahead.

Driving our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport reminds me of Paris since I saw a number of 500s there buzzing like mad around the city. And in Paris, each vehicle danced around each other with such speed and amazingly never crashed; controlled chaos.

Unfortunately, in L.A. we could never hope to drive that way. Even though our city is a car culture, we don't take driving all that seriously. And driving the 500 in rush-hour traffic just pissed me off that we don't. Especially when it seems like traffic could be eased a bit if folks simply paid attention. Then I wouldn't have to work so hard to get home in a timely manner.

A lot of you probably feel this way, too, in your respective areas but it's frustrating feeling like you're one of a very few people in a huuuge city that pays attention while behind the wheel. Just looking around at other drivers during the commute I see folks texting, talking on the phone, eating, drinking, chatting with their passengers, sightseeing, putting on makeup (!), taking curlers out of their hair (wha-?!) ...and this is when the traffic is MOVING. How about just keep your eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel, people?

Since traffic seems worse in the evening, I seriously believe that they check out when they get on the road after work because maybe it was a long day and they don't feel like thinking anymore. So why not just slowwwly make their way to the far left lane so they don't have to contend with merging traffic, they seem to say to themselves. Argh!

In any case, it really makes it hard to enjoy driving a go-kart like the Fiat...or any car for that matter. /rant

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Best Stick Shift for Beginners?

August 23, 2011

My friend in San Francisco asked me if I could teach her how to drive stick while I was up visiting her this coming Labor Day Weekend. She was going to borrow a car from Zipcar for this very purpose. To make things go smoothly, I figured I should come up with suggestions of the best cars to learn how to drive a manual on.

Having driven our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, I have to say that it would be perfect to teach someone about the wonderful world of manual shifting. Its shifter is so light, its clutch is responsive and most important of all it comes with hill hold — not that I would put the student on a hill during their first lesson.

Plus, it looks so cute that no one would be too mad if you stalled out in the middle of traffic. At least that was my experience when I was learning to drive stick in the equally cute Mini.

Unfortunately, perusing through Zipcar's inventory I realized they don't have the 500. Damn. But they DO have a Mini. Hmm. Although I do hate the sharp-edged shifter.

In any case, any other suggestions on what's a good car to learn how to drive stick on? I also think, even though Zipcar doesn't have it, the Miata. Love that short gearshifter!

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 7,122 miles

Dictator-Friendly Options?

August 24, 2011

Photo by Sergey Ponomarev/Associated Press

This Associated Press photo of rebels pushing a Fiat 500 in Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi's compound in Libya popped up on New York Times' Wheels Blog. Wait, HE drives one?

It looks like a seriously customized one. OK, no doors seems like a bad idea for a dictator. HATE the color scheme. Jade and gold? Ew. But I wish there were shots of the interior. Curious to see what sort of features a dictator favors. Electronic Tracking Vehicle System, Autonet Wifi? Any other guesses? (By the way, is that rebel really wearing flip-flops instead of more protective footwear?)

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Street Racer

August 24, 2011

Try as I might, I can’t get exercised by the Fiat 500’s seeming lack of horsepower — 99 hp. This might be because I once spent a summer racing a 55-hp Renault Le Car.

Of course hardly anyone could tell that I was actually racing the Le Car. It looked more like a demonstration run since it didn’t make any noise except for the squealing Kleber tires. There were a number of other Le Cars out there with me, though, and every once in a while one would roll upside down just to get people’s attention, kind of like a bad puppy.

But at least I learned then that underpowered cars are actually way more fun than the opposite, since you can drive them around at full throttle without attracting any attention from the fun police.

And there’s always the opportunity for shaming some other similarly motivation-challenged appliance. Like the green Datsun B210 that bit the guardrail at the Lime Rock uphill while trying to keep up. (Same place as pictured above, strangely enough.) Or the MG Midget that puked its expensive pocketwatch-like motor while trying to stay ahead at Pocono. (Could have measured our lap times there with an egg timer, actually.)

Really the Fiat 500 is practically a Formula 1 racer compared to that old Le Car, so I think twice before whining about its engine power.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor,

The Automatic Gets it Right

August 25, 2011

In our First drive of the Fiat 500 we wrote, "The Aisin six-speed offers AutoStick for manual override and was responsive enough to quell any concerns we may have had about it numbing or damping the little car's verve. Actually, with closer ratio gaps the Aisin might just be better suited to all forms of driving. Still, the light clutch and positive shifter action in the manual-equipped 500 is a pleasure to use, and it isn't too onerous even in heavy traffic." Recently, I finally got to drive a Fiat 500 equipped with the automatic, and while all that above may be true, it failed to mention one thing this transmission got absolutely, undeniably right.....

...They NAILED the layout of the manual gate.

Push forward to downshift (you're braking and thus already feeling motion in that direction) and pull back for an upshift (you're accelerating and already feeling motion in THAT direction.)

Trying to downshift a car by pulling back on a handle while your entire body is being shoved forward sucks and is a silly idea. There's no discussion here. One way is good and natural and promotes fast, efficient, natural shifts. The other way puts the upshift up and the downshift down because the words match.

While a great touch and a perfectly good automatic, this car is so easy to drive with the 5MT, I can't see opting for the auto.

Also, it should be noted that our three-dial climate control system is way better than this digital one. It's hard to beat a three-dial system...

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

When You're Small

August 25, 2011

Subcompacts like the 500 don't offer lots of opportunities for in-cabin storage. That's the price you pay for getting a car that never saw a parking space it couldn't squeeze into.

There's no real center console bin. But you do get the weird circular cupholder/cardholder hybrid shown above, which can serve a similar function, I guess.

That little cubby with the fishnet is there for sunglasses, I imagine.

The glove box holds the owner's manual. Barely.

The bins on the doors are pretty narrow and shallow.

On the back of each front seat is a pretty deep pouch.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ ~7,100 miles

Mid-Lifers Prefer Funky Over Flashy?

August 29, 2011

When I was in a PetCo parking lot loading up our 2012 Fiat 500's trunk with dog diapers and dog food, a 50-something gentleman approached me asking if that was the new 500.

He then proceeded to tell me his story. That he loves the fun look of the 500 but his wife won't let him get one because it's too small. He currently drives a GMC Yukon XL but since his kids went off to college he doesn't need a car that big anymore. "How's the gas mileage?" "How does it compare to the Mini?" "Is it fun to drive?" "Is there enough room in the backseat for passengers?" Needless to say, I tried to answer all his questions. "It's cheaper than the Mini and doesn't drive as well but still pretty fun. Decent gas mileage. My parents can fit in the backseat but not too much space for tall people."

But this encounter reminded of something editor Mark Takahashi and I talked about when discussing his Fiat's CDI post (that old men seem to be the ones attracted to the 500 the most) as well as what commenter firstwagon pointed out in James Riswick's recent Juke post: that nowadays older people are going for the funkier cars. Am I jumping the gun in thinking that means we can say good-bye to sports cars as the default choice for those suffering from "mid-life crisis"? Are they now choosing funky over sporty and/or flashy looks in an attempt to recapture their youth?

When faced with the above choices, which car would make you feel young again?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Sun Blocker

August 29, 2011

I signed out the 500 for the weekend and knowing that temps would hit triple digits and that the Fiat's transparent sunroof shade was about as effective as a screen door in a submarine, some Yankee ingenuity was in order.

Knowing that I wouldn't look as good as Mr. Montoya in a head wrap (shown above and which he fashioned during a recent drive through Death Valley) and that all that sun streaming into the cabin would be doing its best to broil the girlfriend and I anyway, I pondered my options. After confirming that a hand towel was about the same size as the sunroof glass I had my solution. A few pieces of tape and a minute later I had a very effective sun blocker.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 7,456 miles

Errand Buddy

September 06, 2011

Forget Fiat 500, I shall call this car, Errand Buddy.

Because for whipping around town, making multiple stops, loading groceries and other small purchases in and out of the rear hatch, it just doesn't get any easier than my new Errand Buddy.

The Fiat 500 has everything I need for a busy day of local runs. And best of all, since not even an 11-year-old wants to climb repeatedly in and out of the back seat, I get to do the errands all by myself.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 7,743 miles

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2012 Mini Cooper: August Sales Showdown

September 06, 2011

One has a wider and more established dealer network but the other has newness and a lower price tag on its side. I'm talking, of course, about the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.

Which model do you think was the bigger seller last month? The answer may surprise you.

August 2011 Sales

Fiat 500: 3,106

Mini Cooper Hardtop: 1,569
Mini Cooper Convertible: 434

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 7,742 miles

Will the Wing Fit?

September 07, 2011

I've decided to reinstall the factory Tea Tray spoiler on our 1985 Porsche 911. Don't tell the IL staff, it's going to be a surprise.


Well, we've had the car since February, and I think it'll be a nice change. Personally I love it without the wing, but I'm not afraid of change and you shouldn't be either.

Anyway, this morning I had to move the spoiler to a different location for installation and it thankfully and surprisingly fit in the back of out long-term 2012 Fiat 500. Well, it just fit with both rear seats folded.

More on the Tea Tray installation later.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 7,767 miles

Bluetooth Ease

September 08, 2011

Even though Editor John DiPietro had some trouble trying to get our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport to understand his heavy Boston accent when trying to make a call and thought the microphone lacked clarity, I like how easy it is to pair my phone to the car's Blue&Me system via Bluetooth.

You see, most other cars with Bluetooth have a certain number of slots for a certain number of paired phones (I'm looking at you, Juke). Can be a bit of a bother when you have 20+ editors cycling through it. Plus I hate having to record the name of my phone and then I have to hear my recorded annoyed voice, in addition to the other editors' annoyed voices, every time I go to select it from the list repeated over the speakers. (BTW, some editors come up with strange names for their phones. What's a kaitai?)

But in the Fiat I just select Settings, Pair and wait for the number code to be announced and then plug that into my phone. None of this having to take up slots, delete a phone or record a name. So nice.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 7,791 miles

Disappointing Dudes Since 2011

September 09, 2011

Some time ago, Takahashi went on a rant about the low CDI rate for our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport. Part of this can be attributed to it being driven by Mark Takahashi, part of it is because only males between 45 and 70 seem to have any interest in the car.

But there's a darker theme here on the D(dudes)DI side of things: They are constantly disappointed that I am not an attractive (presumably) young lady.

Drive the Fiat 500 through L.A. for more than 20 minutes and you'll get two kinds of stares: The first is from older guys who dig Fiats. Mostly all car guys. Usually driving something cool, but quirky. The second type, though, that's the problem. These are young males between 16 and 35, often driving base BMWs with automatics or third-hand Mercs or Lexus SUVs and always wearing Oakley or Prada shades.

They roll up slowly, even if their line of traffic is going well, and are leering at the Fiat when they get side-by-side. And then you see their face sink as they hurry past as if they were expecting something other than an unshaved guy in a hoodie and, frankly, disappointed by the scene.

::shrug:: I think I look sharp in the car.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

It's a Real Car

September 12, 2011

It's easy to be around the 2012 Fiat 500 for a while and start dismissing it as a toy without really realizing it. It's not fast. It's too cute (Late last week, I encountered another woman who even looked sort of like me also driving a Rosso 500 Sport, and we got all smiley-wavey). And its interior materials are cheap — too cheap considering Fiat is building the car in Mexico, rather than exporting it from Italy.

But then, I got in the 500 after spending almost a week in one of its rivals, and I realized I like the 500 more than I've previously admitted. It has a solid, substantial ride, considering it's a true subcompact with a short wheelbase and presumably had its chassis tuned on a tight budget. And I really do enjoy working through the gears of its five-speed manual — the shifter is reasonably precise and offers some positive feel going into gates, and the clutchwork is easy and fun.

Also, the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine actually has some personality — a pleasing growl as you accelerate off the line — which is more than I can say of most of the 1.4-, 1.5- and 1.6-liter engines I've been around recently.

Yep, this Cinquecento is a real car and if I had to buy something in this price range, I'd consider it for its driving characteristics alone.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 8,745 miles

Smallness Is Its Own Reward

September 13, 2011

People walk up to us all the time to talk about the Fiat 500. There’s that cuteness thing of course. But as you can tell after a moment or two, it’s also because it’s small.

There’s no visual intimidation. It promises to be cheap. It simplifies, lightens, and makes sensible. It’s smart, not extravagant. It’s efficient, not complicated.

The car is an answer to a question about utility, but it’s also an answer to a question about psychology. And as the smartphones that we hold in our hands every day are telling us, small, cleverly integrated packages make us feel smart and clever ourselves.

The product planners of the car manufacturers seem to be in the business of making things bigger, since their focus groups always check the survey box that indicates a need for more space. But as vehicles as various as the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ have proven to me recently, smallness can be perceived as a virtue, not a handicap.

A lot of people apparently feel the same, since data indicates that the sales of compact and subcompact cars in the country's top 10 markets have increased between 30 and 70 percent in the last year.


Increase in compact car shopping vs. 2010

Increase in subcompact car shopping vs. 2010










Dallas-Fort Worth






Los Angeles



New York






San Francisco



Washington, DC



Michael Jordan, Executive Editor,

Surviving the Desert

September 15, 2011

I drove the 2012 Fiat 500 on the first leg of our fourth-annual Fuel Sipper Smackdown comparison test. This portion of the trip took us through Death Valley, where temperatures soared past 110 degrees. I'm not much of a cap wearer and I hadn't thought to bring one for this trip. I was going to be cooped up in a car all day and I wasn't driving a convertible, so what was the point? But after a few hours under the Fiat's mesh "sunshade," I was feeling like an ant under a magnifying glass. I reached into my bag and grabbed the first thing that would provide me with shade. This t-shirt wasn't the most elegant solution, but it worked.

Sunroof issues aside, the Fiat 500 was a pleasant car to drive on a road trip. It was not only capable of handling the desert heat, but also of putting up some impressive fuel- economy numbers. The 1.4 liter engine struggled a bit on some of the steeper grades, but it eventually made its way through Death Valley and the rest of the trip.

If I was in the market for a Fiat 500, I'd opt for the convertible with an automatic transmission. I commute in heavy stop and go traffic. And I'd get the convertible. Ironically, the convertible top provides better protection than the sunshade in the coupe.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 7,850 miles

JLo Approved

September 16, 2011

It's no secret that a favorite artist of myself and Automotive Editor Dan Frio is Jennifer Lopez.

JLo (my future ex-wife) just went through a terrible divorce. So she has celebrated her independence by making a Fiat 500 commercial.

Why would mega-wealthy JLo need to resort to such a thing? Remember: Marc Anthony is taking half — of everything.

(Bonus: music video "On the Floor" featuring Frio's other fav artist — Pitbull.)

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~9,000 miles

Parking Prowess

September 19, 2011

Less really is more when it comes to parking, as the Fiat proved on a couple of occasions this weekend. The first challenge was the minuscule parking lot of a new Fresh and Easy market that just opened in my neighborhood. The back part of the lot is set up for one-way traffic and the exit lane was partly occupied by a radio station's promotional schoolbus that was on hand for a grand-opening party. The Fiat had no problem maneuvering or fitting into a space with room to spare on both sides. I like that extra margin. It means fewer door-ding opportunities.

The second challenge came Sunday on Long Beach's Retro Row, where street parking is always in short supply. You'll have to trust me when I say that the spot we found in front of this kids' clothing store was really small: The SUV that had been in front of us and the car behind were gone by the time we came back and took this shot. It was a shame to have to leave — the Fiat seemed right at home here.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @8,015 miles

2011 Mazda 2 vs 2012 Fiat 500: In the City and for the Dogs

September 21, 2011

It feels like forever since I last got behind the wheel of our 2011 Mazda 2 Touring. I forgot how much I liked it! All this time our long-term Fiat 500 was my favorite little car in our fleet but after driving our 2 I almost prefer the Mazda.

And yes, car buyers normally wouldn't cross-shop these two: the Fiat's Euro cuteness puts it up against the Mini while the 2 competes with the equally practical Honda Fit. But those interested in the Fiat would be doing themselves a disservice by not test-driving the Mazda 2 first. It, like the Fiat, is a great urban runabout, small enough for parking in the city, fun to drive and I think it looks pretty cute, especially in that Spirited Green Metallic.

Plus after driving the Fiat all this time I can really feel the difference between it and the 2. The 2's shifter feels much more solid and sure and its engine sounds smoother and not as truckish compared to the 500.

And if I had to pick between the 2 and the 500 for a weekend car, I'd go with the Mazda. Not only is it more practical with more cargo room to facilitate errand running but my dog Mya fits comfortably in the backseat. Again, I realize that the 2 and the 500 wouldn't normally be cross-shopped especially talking 4-door versus coupe but just in terms of having to pick between our two current long-termers, I'm making the comparison.

It was really easy for Mya to jump in and out of the back. And I like how the rear seatbelt fasteners protrude from the bottom seat cushion, making it easier to belt her in via her harness even with her doggy blanket spread out.

Since the 2 is pretty basic, it doesn't have any schmancy rear climate controls or vents but I just direct the vents in the center dash toward the back so that Mya can get some air.

Just as a reminder, here's Mya with the Fiat. There, she can spread out in the backseat, too, and the seatbelt fasteners also protrude for easy fastening. She doesn't get as much of a view out the backseat in the coupe as she does in the 2, though, and thanks to the gray cloth, I fear that it would be harder to clean off than the 2's dark cloth.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 13,511 miles

...Can't Figure Out the USB Interface

September 23, 2011

"Rex," I said to our Vice Chairman of making-sure-people-have-something-to-drive-home, "I won't be around when the board comes around. Sign me out for something. Prioritize iPod! Thanks!" A few hours later the text came in "Fiat 500 is all yours."


See, I've now spent a few thousand miles behind the wheels of various new Fiat 500s and I have absolutely, positively NO idea how to work the USB functions. And I'm a guy who doesn't go a day without plugging some USB-powered-music-holding-device into something else.

I mean, I get the basics, I plug the device in (the port is in the glove box) and can get the songs to play in random order. I can adjust the volume and get it to switch from one track to some other random track. But that is absolutely all I can do.

"RTFM" you say? Fine.

"The iPod can be controlled using the radio buttons to Play, Browse, and List the iPod or external devices contents. Refer to the Blue&Me Manual on the DVD for details."

What?! Watch the DVD for more? Is this a joke? The process is so complicated that they can't write it in the manual but have to put it on a DVD? Or is the cost-savings of producing a DVD that much higher than including a full manual with the car?

Either way, the manual says that the first original owner of the vehicle can call and get a real manual, I'll be calling on Monday.

But for now, I don't have the time or the patience to watch a DVD about something that should be simple or simply written in a proper manual. I'll try and watch it over the weekend and report back. Until then, though, all music will be completely random.

Oh, and before you anti-Apple folk start rabblerousing, I carry a USB stick with music to test ease of use with — it's just as impossible.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, @ 8,200 miles

The Miracle of Hill-Start Assist

September 26, 2011

It turns out that the best theft-deterrent you can buy for your car these days is a manual transmission.

Only about 8 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. are equipped with a manual transmission these days compared to 22 percent in 1985. And this means that fewer and fewer people each year know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

So it makes you wonder why anyone would choose the five-speed manual transmission over the six-speed automatic for the Fiat 500. This goes double if you live in the suburb of L.A. where I do, which has hills kind of the way San Francisco has hills.

But there’s no scent of burning clutch material after driving the Fiat 500 around my town.

You can be stopped on a hill at an angle that makes you think the car is pointed toward the heavens like a passenger jet on takeoff, and yet there’s no roll back when you start doing that three-pedal shuffle to get going when the traffic light turns green. And no roll back means no fear of punching the grille of the car behind you, no desperate clutch slip as you struggle to engage the clutch just the right amount to build forward momentum without stalling the engine.

Turns out that the Fiat 500 has hill-start assist, just like so many vehicles do these days — full-size pickup trucks as well as small subcompacts.

What happens is, the car maintains brake pressure for a short period of time after you lift your foot from the brake pedal and begin to apply the throttle to coordinate the getaway with the clutch. It’s one of those miracles of electronics, and you can learn more about it from .

Of course, it’s not a total miracle, as it most of the time these things apparently are calibrated to keep your vehicle in place with the brakes on slopes that have no more than gradient of 3 percent, and there’s a hill only a half block away from my house that’s so steep it makes bicycle riders weep and pedestrians faint.

But thanks to hill-start assist, the Fiat 500 with its manual transmission is usually as easy to drive around my town as an old Volkswagen Beetle. As Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Pardilla has already pointed out, this is the right car with which to teach someone to drive with a stick shift. The Mazda 2 would be at the other end of the spectrum, of course.

Don’t be looking for any great revival in manual transmission usage, though. A manual transmission used to be a lot cheaper than an automatic and also offer much better fuel economy besides, but the difference between the two is far less these days. Plus the new breed of affordable dual-clutch automated manuals combines the no-slip powertrain efficiency of a manual transmission with the automated clutch engagement of an automatic.

But at least a manual transmission has a fun factor that you can’t beat, since you always feel like you’re operating the car instead of it operating you. Of course, you could say the same about driving a tractor (although even tractors have automatic transmissions these days).

Oh well, at least there’s that theft-deterrent thing.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 8,275

Do You Have a Towel?

September 27, 2011

So there I am. I've got a car for the weekend, and I'm stoked. But as I stand ready to hop in, I look down and see a weird pattern on the driver's seat. Now, the lighting is a little random, so I move my head back and forth trying to cancel out any lighting anomalies, but it's no use.

That's a stain.

Is there any other way to say it? The stain looks to have emanated from the crotchal region of someone who drove the car.

I told myself it was just sweat. Tell me I'm right. Please. But we've had such a cool summer...

And another thing, take a look at the fabric. Your eyes do not fool you - the fabric has a metallic quality, see the right side bolster? That's light reflected off the seat cushion. I would expect a metallic surface to have less... absorbent qualities.

Someone give me a towel. And some denatured alcohol.

And please, tell me it's sweat.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 8,449 miles

Presidential Traffic Jam

September 27, 2011

President Obama is in Los Angeles, which means I am not. Nothing against Mr. Obama, but his visits to Southern California wreak havoc on our already ridiculous traffic patterns.

So the Fiat 500 and I are cooling our wheels and heels at the beach today, staying home, and outta the fray.

Hey, maybe the President should come to town more often...

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 8,565 miles

Reaching Out to the Ladies

September 28, 2011

When you spot a 2012 Fiat 500 on the road, is there a man behind its wheel or a woman? Just curious. Not that it matters, of course. It's just that the automaker seems to be kicking its marketing-toward-women into high gear.

Apparently that JLo ad we (OK, I) thought was a sure way to turn off female consumers is actually a big hit with the ladies as consideration for the brand went up 31 percent since the ad's debut on September 12 during ESPN's Monday Night Football. Yes, more women are watching football.

From AutoObserver:

"On the surface, Fiat's decision to make a heavy ad buy during NFL games is a curious move for a car that it's almost universally agreed has a particular appeal for female buyers. But a deeper look at NFL audiences shows that women are tuning in to football at all-time high numbers."

Not only that, yesterday Fiat launched a limited-edition Pink Ribbon 2012 Fiat 500 to benefit the Breast Cancer Research foundation. 250 cars are being sold for $22,500 each with $1,000 from each purchase going toward the foundation. (Any way to raise breast cancer awareness is a good thing so hooray for that.)

Personally, I'd like to forget the whole JLo ad thing happened (even though apparently Fiat is coming out with two more ads, with the next one coming out next month) and go back to liking the car again.

Wasn't the car's cute style enough to appeal to women?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Will it (all) Fit?

September 29, 2011

I just got off of a plane from Vancouver, where I was driving the new Range Rover Evoque, and grabbed a taxi back to our Santa Monica headquarters. Then I did a quick costume change into my motorcycle gear for a night video shoot (story forthcoming). When I got back to the garage, I wondered if all of my luggage and riding gear would fit in the back with the cargo cover in place. In essence, "Will it fit?"

Yes, of course, as you can see in the photo. And yes, I know it's a crappy iPhone photo, but I did that on purpose. After all, I don't want to give away what the bike in the background is, do I? Got any guesses? And no, you cannot blow up the photo.

In my tired state, I didn't have the energy to dig through my luggage to find some sensible shoes. Instead, I kept the motorcycle boots on. I don't recommend this. It's like trying to work an iPhone with mittens on. Ladies, I'll never understand how you can drive in stilettos.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

They're Everywhere

September 30, 2011

I'm seeing the Fiat 500 everywhere. OK, so maybe not in the frequency they were in the above segment of Top Gear, but in the last three weeks I've been seeing a whole heap of 500s both here in Los Angeles and in Toronto. Sure, the 500's going to stick out a lot more than the countless brand-new Corollas that no doubt drove by me in the same period of time, but August sales back up the notion that the little Fiat isn't a bust. The 500 had double the sales of the Mini Cooper.

I wonder, however, if the 500 will be able to sustain its success over the long term as Mini has over the course of a decade. Or, will it fall out of favor once its hip factor declines (see Beetle) or when a limited number of potential customers finally get their car (see Thunderbird or Smart).

If I were a betting man, I'd say it'll go the way of the Mini with two qualifiers: It doesn't prove to be woefully unreliable and they come out with different variants to keep things fresh (cough, Abarth).

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 8,640 miles

Style. By Gucci.

October 03, 2011

The house of Gucci is revered around the world, known for fashion — and handbags. Oh, I know you're gonna be devastated that this post isn't about handbags.

It's about the new Fiat 500 by Gucci. If the regular 500 doesn't have enough style, or if you love luxury brands and like to flaunt it, maybe this is for you.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the JLo video of her driving the Gucci machine. So you'll have to make do with the two others vids that showcase Gucci's oh-so-cool style.

Besides, if JLo does make a 500 by Gucci commercial, based on the current ad's airplay, you can rest assured that you'll be able to enjoy it again and again and again...

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 8,700 miles

Odo Trip Reset

October 03, 2011

I filled the fuel tank of our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 Sport for the first time over the weekend. We keep track of fuel economy here so I had to reset the trip odo. I struggled with the Menu buttons in the lower right of the above pic for a good 10 minutes, then gave up and did some RTFM.

It turns out the trip reset is on the end of the right stalk. Our long-term Chevy Cruze also has the trip reset at the tip of the stalk.

I suppose once you know where it is, the tip of the stalk location is very convenient for the trip reset. And I would imagine it is easier to manufacture in this location compared with putting a peg through a hole in the meters' plastic cover. Additionally, the stalk already controls many functions and adding one other wouldn't be too much of a problem.

What do you think? Do you like the odo trip reset at the end of the stalk?

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 8,700 miles

Handy Bin & Cupholders

October 06, 2011

My iPhone and parking card usually end up in a car's cupholders. If I'm using my iPod, it could end up in there too. Should I be going a longer distance and have a bottle of water, things get tricky.

That's why I like the tri-cupholder dealy bob in the 500. Its narrow forward bin in particular keeps my iPhone or iPod secure and easily reached. From a cupholder perspective, you could put two smaller cups/cans in it and/or one jumbo gulp. Sure, the unit could be mounted a little higher, but it's a simple, yet thoughtfully designed feature that makes a difference.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 8,765 miles

Did You Know...

October 10, 2011

...that there was a Fiat 600? Yes, the 500 had a "bigger" (hey, it's all relative) brother that was introduced in 1955 and produced through 1969. The 600 was about 10 inches longer and, at about 1,300 pounds, weighed 200 pounds more than the 500 made during that time. Unlike that old 500 which was air-cooled, the 600 was water cooled and its 633 cc (yes, that's 0.63 liter) inline four cranked out a thundering 21 horsepower.

Although it was very popular (some 2.5 million were produced) it didn't achieve the cult status (nor the rebirth) of the 500. Maybe styling had something to do with it...

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ ~ 8,850 miles

Seat Height Adjuster No Go

October 11, 2011

Apparently I had our 2012 Fiat 500 right after a tall short-torsoed editor because its driver seat was a bit too high for my comfort so I tried to use the seat height adjuster to fix this. But when I pushed down on it, nothing. When I pulled it, nothing. Not wanting to have a repeat of what happened when we first got the Fiat, I just left it alone and moved my seat closer to the pedals.

So I read the owner's manual to see if I was doing it wrong and sure enough it said that the lever needs to be pumped upward to raise the seat height and downward to lower it. I tried doing this instead but still got nothing. Hmf.

In a past Fiat post when we had Tweeps (Twitter people) test-drive the 500, one of them complained about the adjuster, too: "The seat height adjuster didn't seem to raise or lower the seat at all and felt cheap."

So now I'm wondering if any other Fiat 500 owners have experienced this issue. I mean, we just got this fixed.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

JLo's World, The Bronx, and Detroit

October 12, 2011

The new Fiat 500 commercial "My World" starring Jennifer Lopez debuted a few days ago.
It features JLo driving the 500 back to her old neighborhood, The Bronx.

The ad is trying to tell the story of her getting back to her roots to find the source of her inspiration. And maybe not so coincidentally, this JLo ad is very similar to the Fiat sister company 2012 Chrysler 300 commercial, "If You're Gonna." This one features some guy driving the streets of Detroit to the sounds of Jay-Z, showing the pride and character exhibited by The Motor City. I really like both of these ads.

But instead of going home and getting back to The City's roots, the 300 goes through some ritzy suburbs (including Birmingham) and ends up — at some fancy lake house.

Perhaps this guy finds inspiration in his boat.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 8,900 miles

Why Doesn't Ours Look Like This?

October 13, 2011

Look at that stance! Why doesn't our Fiat 500 look like this yet?

For those interested, this shot is one of many that Mazda has recently posted to Facebook promoting the new B-Spec racing series which also includes the Honda Fit and another one of our Long Term cars, the Mazda 2. Unfortunately, the Mazda 2 doesn't look nearly as cool as this Fiat.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

No Room for Cone of Shame

October 17, 2011

Had to take my dog Mya to the vet this weekend to get the staples in her tail removed. For weeks she had to sport that cone of shame all dogs love. But this past Saturday was the big day she was going to be able to shed that ignominious garb. But since I had the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, I couldn't get her in the backseat without first removing the cone. Not so much an issue since her tail was already healed up so the chances of her going after it were probably nil. But it's just a good thing I had something with easier entry to the back than the Fiat when we first got her tail stitched up.

In any case, check her out in the backseat. Within petting (and doggy breath smelling) distance. Only thing was that the only way to get her air back there quickly is to roll down our windows since the air coming through the vents on the dash weren't cutting it.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 8,847 miles

IIHS Top Safety Pick...But Ours Isn't

October 18, 2011

Good news: The 2012 Fiat 500 has scored an IIHS Top Safety Pick award. The minicar scored a Good in front, side, rollover, and rear crash tests and has ESC as standard. It is the only minicar besides the Ford Fiesta to earn the award.

Bad news: It only applies to cars built after July 2011. We bought ours in April of 2011. Cars built before August of 2011 get only a marginal score in front offset test results. Accord to the IIHS, Fiat modified the driver seat structure to improve occupant protection.

So much for all of the people who were early adopters...

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

The Crash Test Videos

October 18, 2011

Earlier today we brought you the news that 2012 Fiat 500s made after July of 2011 (ours was made well before this cutoff) score a Top Safety Pick rating by the IIHS. There were a number of cool photos, but videos weren't available at the time.

Now they are! Enjoy.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Enthusiast Approved

October 19, 2011

Parked the 500 behind this nice BMW 3.0 CS while grabbing lunch today. Of course I had to check it out as I've always loved the timeless, elegant style of these fine grand touring hardtop coupes.

As I was taking this cell-phone shot of it, the owner approached and the car guy chit-chat ensued.

"Is this beauty yours?"

"Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie".

"I'll say. It's a really nice CS. Is it a '72 or '73?"


As I peered into the cabin I noticed it was an automatic (bummer!) with A/C and power windows. It was sporting red leather upholstery with a healthy number of cracks. He was somewhat apologetic for the cabin's less than Concours-level condition.

"I have to do some interior work on it. But I drive it all the time."

"I'd take it just the way it sits. That's great you drive it — it'd be a waste for such an enjoyable machine to be just a garage queen."

Right before he climbed into the Bimmer he paused, and while looking at the 500 said:"That's a nice car too. I rent them every time I go to Rome!"

And with that we parted ways, both in full agreement about two classic European models.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 8,879 miles

Will The Bike Fit?

October 20, 2011

Challenges are good in life. So I figured, why not try to stuff a bike into the back of the Fiat 500? With something this diminutive, I knew it would be a total hassle and no doubt involve removing both wheels and who knows what else.

In other words, I'd make it fit somehow, but at what level of disassembly?

I chose my singlespeed mountain bike as the test dummy. It has normal-size 26-inch wheels (as opposed to 29-inchers like some of my mountain bikes), but a wider-than-roadbike handlebar with bar-end stubs, so it's not completely cheating. The singlespeed doesn't have a quick-release rear wheel, and I didn't want to have to remove that, but I was pretty sure it would be necessary anyway.


With rear seats folded, the front passenger seat moved all the way forward, and the one concession to the bike being lowering the seatpost (above and beyond removing the front wheel), believe it or not the mountain bike just barely squeezed in. With rear wheel still in place. I know, shocking.

And I didn't have to change my normal driving position one bit to do so. Of course, this wouldn't be the case if were a giant the size of, say, Dan Edmunds, or had a larger mountain bike.

But at least now I know the 500 can be used for bicycle transport in a pinch.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 9,047 miles.

Oil Change How-To

October 25, 2011

How do you change the oil in a 2012 Fiat 500? It's a simple four-step process.

1) Drive to your local Fiat dealer and locate the service advisor.

He'll be the one looking like the Maytag repairman, but without the hat. More than likely he's also the service manager. He could also run the parts department while he's not carrying out the duties of mayor or sheriff.

It's not that Fiat 500's are supremely reliable — the jury is still out on that point. It's just that they have but one model to sell and none of them are so much as a year old.

2) Ask for an oil change.

3) Wait 30 or 45 minutes.

It shouldn't take much longer than that. It's not like there's a stream of 500s waiting in line when the service department opens each morning. My local dealer, Orange Coast Fiat, had more than a few bays loaded up with off-road vehicles getting modded.

Turns out the Fiat dealership has a side business called OC Motorsports. Or maybe the Fiat dealership is the side business. It's a nice building with over 50 new Fiats on the lot out front, so I'm betting on the former. Either way, the mechanics have to have something to do until a sufficient supply of high-mileage Fiats builds up, right?

4) Attempt to pay, and then get waved off.

The 500 comes with scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles. Oil changes are scheduled in the book every 8,000 miles, as are tire rotations. Other items such as air filters and brake pads get sprinkled in at various other intervals.

But my service advisor advised me that up to nine oil changes are allowed in those 36,000 miles, meaning you can halve the oil change interval to 4,000 miles if you wish or, presumably, if your driving pattern is defined as severe service. Ours probably isn't, but the owner's manual is currently AWOL and I can't confirm that.

Total Cost: $0.00

Days out of Service: 0.021

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

Cute Little Hood Support

October 27, 2011

Like it or not, nearly every aspect of our 2012 Fiat 500 can be described as cute and/or little, as in, "That's a cute little car."

Or, "Look at the cute little hood support. Awww."

It works way better when my 12 year-old daughter says it.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,187 miles

DVD Owner's Manual Alternative

October 27, 2011

Yesterday I needed to Refer to The Factory Manual (RTFM) contained within the glove compartment of our 2012 Fiat 500.

But it wasn't there. Must be on somebody's desk.

No problem, the owner's manual wallet was still there, and in it I found a DVD version. Hello laptop.

Common operations are demonstrated in short video clips. I was able to sit on my own couch and learn the basics of phone pairing, seat adjustment (their seat height adjuster works so much better than ours) and the proper use of the "sport" button, among other things.

Fiat is quick to point out that this Owner's Information DVD is not a substitute for the actual owner's manual, probably because it does not go on for 15 pages on the proper use of seat belts or contain myriad lawyer-generated warnings and cautions.

But it's not just that; the minutiae is not there, the stuff that tends to send us rummaging for the owner's manual in the first place. Think of it as a quick-start guide. You may still need to RTFM if you get stuck.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,153 miles

Floorboards Reinstalled

October 31, 2011

This weekend, Pebbles needed a ride to the costume party. For some inexplicable reason, our Fiat 500 seemed strangely appropriate. Does the long-term fleet have something more appropriate?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 9,283 miles

Mirror, mirror

October 31, 2011

I understand why the mirror has the extra fish-eye bit on the end, but I'm not entirely happy with it — particularly when I'm driving due West in the morning. It's nearly impossible to escape the sun with a convex mirror.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 9,333 miles

Forza Challenge

November 01, 2011

It's been a while since I fired up Forza 4. I blame Batman Arkham City and Battlefield 3 for my protracted absence. As I tried to avoid the Halloween madness in my neighborhood last night, I decided to see what's been going on in the Forza Club. I was pleased to see a flurry of activity among 18 members and 40 cars in the garage (if only we had a Veyron in our real long-term fleet).

There wasn't a lot of response to the Miata hot lap challenge I threw out there, though. It looks like most members have been battling it out on the traditional Top Gear challenge (Kia Cee'd from a standing start). And I can't blame you, it's a ton o' fun.

But here's another challenge. For the next week, hop in the Fiat 500 that's in the club garage and take it for a test drive at the Top Gear track. I know, it's an Abarth, but the regular 500 isn't available in the game. I'm pretty sure you'll be able to beat my best time of 1:31.064. Personally, I think there's another two seconds to be shaved off there, but I was itchin' to blow stuff up in Battlefield 3.

In the meantime, I included the current leaderboard for the Kia Cee'd Top Gear challenge on the right. Good job, everybody, I'm hoping to get back to driving soon. Oh wait, Modern Warfare 3 drops in a week. Nevermind.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Named Hottest Hatch at 2011 SEMA Show

November 02, 2011

Congrats to the Fiat 500 as it has been named the hottest sport compact car at this week's 2011 SEMA Show.

SEMA said the awards were designed to point consumers toward the "most accessory-friendly vehicles on the market."

Hmmmm, what should we do to our long-term 500?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 9,437 miles

I'd Buy the Convertible

November 08, 2011

I'm a sunroof guy though and through. I use it every day. It's the one option box I'd tick on any new car I was thinking about buying. If I were having a tough time deciding between two cars, I'd probably pick the one with the sunroof.

Not so with our 2012 Fiat 500. Sure, it has the $850 sunroof option, it's just that it's not very good.

The first problem, as we've talked about before is the little curtain that acts as a makeshift sunshade. It's not very attractive and it lets the heat from the big dark glass thing on the roof bleed straight onto the top of your head. Fun.

Next, the sunroof takes up a lot of space. Riswick barely fits and if I try to drive it down Wilshire, I'm hitting my head on the roof at every bump.

Finally, when you open it, the pop-up air deflector makes more noise at city speeds than it prevents. Annoying.

Thankfully, the convertible fixes all of these problems.

There's headroom. Lots of it.

The roof is made of a thick canvas that doesn't let light or head in.

When you retract the roof, the pop-up air deflector has a small latch so you can attach it in the down position for low-speed motoring, or pop it up for highway stuff.

And finally, it's not really a convertible. The roof rails still stay fixed so this is more like a $3,000 giant panoramic sunroof. I like panoramic sunroofs.

Sure, removing most of the roof has some downsides: It's a little less stiff, a little creakier, rear visibility isn't great and doesn't quite have as much storage space. For what I'd want this little car for, that won't bother me.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, @ 9,500 miles

Virtual Countdown to the Abarth Landing in LA

November 08, 2011

The Fiat 500 Abarth reveal at the LA Auto Show is just around the corner, folks: November 16th! Of course it would be better to get to drive this turbocharged micro-car but right now I'll content myself by gazing longingly at it on the show stand. In any case, looks like Fiat is doing a great job of generating buzz around the car. Check out the Web page it built for the Abarth.

Being a social media user, I appreciate what the carmaker is doing here. Seemingly live Tweets populate the L.A. skyline (I Tweeted but it didn't pop up even after a page refresh, hm) while there are buttons to share the page with your Tweeps and Facebook friends. And the countdown clock casts an urgency over the whole page. 8 days, 2 hours, 37 minutes and 2 seconds, people! Only thing is that I wish Fiat included the sound of the car or more footage of it moving in its video.

Is this something you'd share with your FB friends?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

The Cabrio Does it Better

November 10, 2011

There are very few things I'd change about our Fiat 500. I like how it has just enough power to have fun and bumper-car footprint. I also like the concentric gauges. And that's one place where the 500C (convertible) has an edge.

While I like the design of the gauges, the thinner "Univers" font can be a little hard to read.

As you can see in the image above, the cabrio has a thicker font and has fewer callouts (every 20 mph) than the regular 500. I can't say I like the aesthetics of this font, but perhaps the 500 could benefit from a bold Univers font and fewer callouts.

I know, it's a minor detail. It's just the designer in me that surfaces once in a while.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Il Mio Colore Preferito

November 11, 2011

Don't get me wrong, I like the zippy look of our Fiat 500 in Rosso. But Mocha Latte is my favorite hue for the teeny Italian hatchback. It looks creamier in person, for some reason. I feel like it should come with a biscotti on the side.

What color would you paint yours?

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, @ 9,615 miles

Hidden Controls

November 13, 2011

Several of our 2102 Fiat 500's controls take some getting used to, and some seem almost intentionally hidden — even the ones we all use quite often. Resetting the trip meter is a bit frustrating until you learn its unique location on the end of the windshield wiper stalk. It's labelled, but only in a manner the front passenger can see.

The dash-mounted volume and tuning buttons for the stereo are particularly galling in that they are styled to look like protruding twist-knobs at a glance, but they're really just buttons. I've reached up to crank up the volume (and we all say crank for a reason) with a twisting grasp already pre-loaded on more than one occasion. Psyche!

Thankfully, and to a caertain extent secretly, Chrysler's corporate standard steering-mounted audio buttons sit hidden on the back face of the main steering wheel spokes at 9 and 3 o'clock. Thery're not marked in any way, but they are there if you hunt around.

At the head unit, the volume controls (such as they are) are on the left and the tuning controls sit to the right. This matches every single car stereo I've ever owned, every two-stem radio I've ever removed from a car and every aftermarket stereo I've ever bought from Crutchfield and installed myself.

Compared to this the steering wheel buttons seem backwards: the volume one is on the right at 3 o'clock and the tuning/preset scan one is on the left at 9 o'clock. In more than one Chrysler product of recent vintage — and now this Fiat — I've accidentally changed the station when I wanted to up the volume.

At least they're there. And I suppose I'd eventually get used to it if this was the only car I drove every day. But I still don't see the point of swimming upstream of 50 years of standardization: left = volume, right = tune.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

I'll Be Your Door Lock for Today

November 15, 2011

I like this door handle/door lock design in our 500. To unlock the car from the inside, you just pull on the door handle in the usual fashion. To lock the car from the inside, you push on the handle and that little red stripe indicates it's locked. No buttons. Very clean and simple. And shiny.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, @ 9,606 miles

Of Course It Does

November 16, 2011

Shallow blog entry alert, shallow blog entry alert... and what are you going to do about it? I'm covering an auto show for the rest of today and unable to respond to any retorts, even the witty ones.

It probably goes without saying that an Italian car would have adequate facilities for securing a cappuccino, and indeed our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 does it well. OK, so for the sake of this photo, I left the sippy top off — something I wouldn't do while the car is moving. But that doesn't change the fact that this cupholder really anchors a coffee cup in place.

I thought to mention this, because the Mini Cooper we used in the comparison test with our Fiat did a poor job in this department. Even with a lid, no cappuccino was safe.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,604 miles

I Don't Like This Car

November 16, 2011

I've driven our longterm 2012 Fiat 500 numerous times now, so now it can come out — I don't like it. I gave it the ol' college try several times and I've reached this conclusion every time. And I've found I don't like it even before it moves an inch under its own power.

I don't fit; it's as though the seat doesn't ratchet down far enough so I bonk my head on the roof near the door. I'm not that tall (6' 1"), either.

Go ahead, try to stick the key into the ignition. What are you waiting for? Right, the dash crowds the ignition slot, so it's always a bumfight between hand, key and dash.

Succeed at starting it and you're rewarded with the shrillest, most piercing seatbelt alert in the history of personal transportation.

Scramble for the seatbelt. Find it's snagged on the lower part of the seat plastic. Always. Every time. Open the door to un-snag the belt.

All this, and the actual driving experience is pretty ho-hum. Power is fine, really, especially once you really explore the throttle's reach (don't forget to hit the Sport button... every time). It's that the controls — steering, clutch, shifter — are all too light and feel artificial.

Fans of small, light cars deserve better than the Fiat 500.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

Introduction to eco:Drive

November 17, 2011

As the proud owners of a 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, we received this personalized mailer last week. See the front page? That isn't a keychain, it's a USB drive. Fiat calls this eco:Drive.

Basically, plug this USB into a port in the glovebox and it records your driving habits. Then plug it into your computer and it interacts with an eco:Drive app from the Fiat website. We're expecting charts, graphs and the sort. We can't tell yet if this is cool, or gimmicky. We'll check it out and report back.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

Small Convenience

November 18, 2011

Our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport doesn't have parking lights, so I usually turn on the headlights when driving around our office's subterranean garage. On this particular day, I forgot turn them off once I was topside, and I even forgot to turn them off once I'd shut off the engine and parked at a deli for lunch (shown above).

I returned to the car, noticed that the headlights were still in the "on" position, but that the car had obviously turned them off automatically. In a car that's a little hit-and-miss with the conveniences (no auto-up windows, no steering-wheel telescope, etc.), this was unexpected and appreciated.

I should also note that at night these projector-beam headlights throw out a better spread of light (that is, brighter and the beams seem to reach farther) than the reflector-type headlights on our similarly priced Mazda 2 Touring did. So, projector-beam headlights — another fabulous small convenience!

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,689 miles

Not Selling as Well as Hoped

November 21, 2011

The Fiat 500 is not selling as well as Chrysler-Fiat had envisioned. It was reported last week in Automotive News that since sales began in March, only 15,826 were sold through October. That figure falls well below the 50,000 unit annual figure that Chrysler-Fiat had hoped for.

In order to start moving the 500, Fiat began offering a $500 cash rebate this month. But that may come too late for workers already furloughed at the Dundee, MI Fiat 500 engine plant.

Additionally, permanent Fiat stores (separate from Chrysler dealers) have been slow to open due to the big dealer investment. Some dealers think the 500 should be less expensive considering its small size.

In spite of the JLo TV ads that run around the clock, Frenchman Olivier Francois, global head of the Fiat brand, said "I don't think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem." Hmmmm...

What can you do to help? You can buy a Fiat 500, of course!

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~9,800 miles

In Repose

November 22, 2011

Italians are slouchy. I am one so I speak from experience. They lean on things constantly. Rent an Italian movie — and I don't mean The Godfather — but something from Antonioni or Bertolucci. You'll see Italian actors draped all over the set and looking spectacular. I'm not saying Italians are lazy — far from it. But they are relaxed. By now you're wondering where all of this is leading.

The Fiat 500 is relaxed. It's perfectly content to sit in my driveway looking adorable. It's not lazy. It has no problem keeping up on the highway. Getting it going is the problem. It's very slouchy through 1st and 2nd gears. Trying to get the Cinquecento moving is like trying to wake my 10-year-old self up for school. I kept mumbling "five more minutes" to my very patient mother.

I could swear I heard the Fiat 500 whispering "un momento, per favore."

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

That Didn't Take Long

November 22, 2011

Yesterday, Al Austria noted that Fiat is having dismal sales here in the U.S. Hours later, the company announced that it's replacing Laura Soave, the head of Fiat in North America, with Timothy Kuniskis, a veteran Chrysler marketeer.

It will be interesting to see what difference — if any — a change at the top of the U.S. leadership makes in the 500's fortunes.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @9,791 miles

Thanks for the Bragging Rights

November 26, 2011

The Fiat has been a nice companion so far this holiday weekend. I give it thanks for its cargo space, which was just big enough for a 20-pound turkey in its box, a jumbo eight-pack of paper towels and a bag of groceries. It supped a mere 8 gallons of gas today, and stayed under $32. Its brilliant color contrasts nicely with the russet shades of leaves as they turn. (Yes, out-of-staters, leaves turn color in California.)

The best part today, though, was having a display that puts the day, date and temperature in such neat proximity. Eighty degrees on Nov. 26, at 4 in the afternoon. That's a reason to be thankful, and I'm planning on sharing that info with my friends and families in cooler climates.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @9,839 miles

The Gym Rats Want One

November 27, 2011

Today, I parked the Fiat 500 Sport in front of the storefront gym where I punish myself a couple times a week. (That's one of Long Beach's site-specific bike racks in the photo). The car set off a conversation between my trainer and one of his other clients. They both like the Fiat 500 and appreciate its inherent Italian-ness. They're rooting for its success in the U.S. and pooh-poohed the notion that it was only for women, J.Lo advertising notwithstanding. "Nah," they said. "That's just marketing."

Excellent, I thought to myself. Here's first-hand proof that men and Fiat 500 are not natural enemies. Because these are guy-guys. One-more-rep, what-a-gorgeous-girl, what-a-great-game-Alabama-played kind of guys.

But as they talked, the conversation turned to mods they'd like to see on the car. How you could make it a little racier. Stripe it, and maybe put some fat tires on it. A little more power, if necessary. Before I knew it, they were building an Abarth.

I told them that the real Fiat 500 of their dreams was coming soon.That it had a scorpion badge was the icing on the cake. They smiled like maniacs.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @9,917 miles.

Recall Notice

November 28, 2011

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a recall today for Fiat 500 vehicles manufactured from Oct. 24, 2011 to Oct. 26, 2011.

"Some vehicles were assembled with contaminated brake fluid and may experience a degradation of the sealing components within the brake system," according to the recall notice, which can be found via or this Office of Defects Investigation landing page. "This could lead to a loss of braking ability, increasing the risk of a crash."

The recall also affects Dodge Journey vehicles built in that two-day period. Some 340 cars total are subject to the recall. The fix is a replacement of all brake components that come into contact with hydraulic brake fluid. Free of charge, of course. NHTSA said the recall will begin in December.

Rather than wait, I called Chrysler to see if we were unlucky enough to own one of the recalled cars. Armed with the VIN, a pleasant Chrysler customer service rep checked while I listened to "Tracks of My Tears."

She came back with good news: Our car is in the clear.

(As our astute commenters have pointed out, we bought our Fiat last spring, so unless we have a Wayback Machine downstairs, our Fiat would not have been affected by a recall for cars built in October. This writer pleads stupidity or temporal displacement. Maybe both.)

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @9,948 miles


November 29, 2011

The Fiat 500 Sport hit the 10,000 mile mark last night. It took a trip to the mall (yuck), Trader Joe's and about 20 minutes of aimless driving around to capture the magical moment, but at least I got to see some nice — if slightly premature — Christmas lights along the way.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,029 miles.

Checking Out the eco:Drive

December 02, 2011

I've spent the last five days driving around with the eco:Drive program, which is monitoring my driving habits with an eye towards fuel efficiency. To answer the question Mike posed when he introduced this device, I think the information it's reporting is more cool than gimmicky.

To recap a bit: The eco:Drive program records data from the car for each trip, including the behavior of the engine and the gearbox. It wants a five-day baseline for starters. When you remove the data-loaded USB stick and download it onto a computer outfitted with the eco:Drive app, the information from the car goes to Fiat servers. They process it and make it all cool and Italian, like a cross between "La Dolce Vita" and a Paolo Conte record. Sorry. No. I made that last part up.

Actually, Fiat does some analysis and fairly quickly, "the eco:Index calculated is then displayed on your computer screen," Fiat says. The company takes pains to explain that your data "is not tagged with your details in any way. We do not know who the data belongs to, and are unable to pass it on to any third parties. In short, your data is entirely secure."

Good. I'd hate the EPA to learn the following: With a score of 48, I'm a sub-par eco-conscious driver. If this was straight-up academic grading, I think I'd have earned an F.

The higher your eco:Drive score, "the less impact your driving habits are having on the environment and the more money you're saving," Fiat says. Suffice to say, I have room for improvement when it comes to rescuing the planet.

On the plus side, the eco:Drive says I'm averaging 36.7 mpg. I kind of doubt that, given that our own long-term fuel report puts the car closer to an average of 31 mpg. I'll report back with my single-driver results after I fill up this weekend.

Here's a more detailed breakdown of the eco:Drive score components: I'm a two-star accelerator. I think that means I'm accelerating too fast. I'm a good decelerator. I'm not sure if that refers to how I brake or how I downshift. Maybe both.

I'm five stars when it comes to speed. That means I don't drive too fast. Where I'm really failing, however, is in gearshifts, where I earned a mere 1.5 stars.

"Ah," the eco:Drive said to me in a little text box. "You're wasting a whole load of fuel here. Flick through the tutorial and find out where you can improve."

And this is where it's pretty darned cool.

The tutorial then showed me an animation of the average revs at which I shifted gears on my drive this morning. According to the tutorial, I'm revving way too high for maximum engine efficiency. The tips remind me to "move up a gear at the earliest opportunity, without the car losing momentum." And they tell me not to rest my foot on the clutch (which I don't think I do).

A look at the Fiat's manual presents my issue with shifting in more detail. When accelerating, the shift from first to second should be at 14 mph; second to third at 23 mph; third to fourth at 29 mph and fourth to fifth at 38. I'm shifting at much higher speeds than recommended. As you can see in this step, I was shifting from second to third at 30 mph. It's a pretty accurate rendition of my driving. I know that I don't shift into fifth until I'm at 60 mph or more, for example. Bad girl.

The eco:Drive app also lets you set challenges for yourself to see if you can improve your score. It challenged me to raise my score to 58 by Dec.16. Alas, I won't be in the car all that time, so I won't be able to play. If the Fiat was my personal car, however, I would definitely use this tool. It's cool to have this kind of driving-efficiency feedback.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,208 miles

More on Living in ecoVille

December 05, 2011

On Friday, I reported on the results of Fiat's eco:Drive analysis after five days of driving. I doubted one stat it yielded: eco:Drive said I was averaging 36.7 miles per gallon. It seemed high, given that our monthly average for the car is more like 31 mpg.

After I filled up this morning, I did the long division for this trip/tank: 36.1 mpg. So eco:Drive was in the ballpark. These are nearly all highway miles, by the way. I think that's what pulled the number up.

I also spent some time this weekend trying to match my gear shifts to those that Fiat recommends for optimal fuel economy. Unfortunately, they make the car feel impossibly poky and weak. At the risk of banishment from ecoVille, I'm going to take the reminder Post-it off the dash and drive the way I feel it.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,273 miles

Versus Leaf Blower

December 05, 2011

How did our long-term Fiat 500 compare in an emissions test against a Ford Raptor and two leaf blowers?

Read Jay's feature article on

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

A 500 I Can Get Behind

December 08, 2011

Our longterm 2012 Fiat 500 Sport doesn't do anything for me. But the other day I found a 500 (or perhaps technically not a 500) that does.

Spotted in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, this is either a Fiat Abarth 695 or a 500 kitted to look like one. Excuse the grainy cellphone photo; the car was in the intersection but for a few seconds.

Anyway, with the 695, Abarth turned the wick up from 18 to 32 horsepower. That's nearly doubling the power to weight ratio! And talk about charm. This car is Jules Winnfield's Arnold-trumping piglet.

The irony is that there's probably nothing that this old Fiat/Abarth objectively does better than the 2012 500, but it sure looks the business. Then again, when closed its roll-top roof no doubt does a better job of shielding the sun than the mesh doily in our 500...

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

A Three-Star Crash-Test Rating

December 12, 2011

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has posted its safety rating for the 2012 Fiat 500, and it did not win top marks. The car earned three stars out of a possible five for overall safety. It got four stars for its performance in a frontal crash and four stars for the rollover test.

But the car got just two stars for side-crash performance. Looking over the test scores in more detail, the driver-seat ratings are good: five stars. It's the rear-seat ratings that drag down the car's side-crash score, which comprises two different tests: the side barrier and the side pole.

The test-results notes for the side-barrier rating say this: "Although not included in the star rating, the rear passenger's abdominal rib deflection was elevated." From what I can gather, that means a greater risk of crushing injuries. Perhaps folks here who are well-versed in crash-test protocols could cast some more light on this.

By contrast, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave its Top Safety Pick designation to the 2012 Fiat — but only those built after July 2011.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor

It Doesn't Matter

December 13, 2011

Fiat will sell you an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission on the 500; it has a manual shift mode and shorter 1st through 4th gears (plus a shorter final drive). Nevertheless, on a car with almost no low-end torque, it does no favors to performance. We tested a 500C (the cabrio, so it was 100 pounds heavier), and it was over second slower through the quarter-mile (18.7 @ 73.6 mph vs. 17.5 @ 76.6).

However, even if the automatic somehow improved acceleration on the Fiat 500, there's no way I'd get it. Shifting is my greatest source of entertainment in this little car. The driving position is awkward in here, the throttle response is bit slow, the steering is sleepy, so I'm not going to get to do anything too fast. So then, I might as well occupy the mind getting my upshifts perfectly smooth and my downshifts tidy.

If you took this one activity (shifting gears) away from me, I'd never be able to drive the Fiat 500 — I'd have absolutely no affection for this car. Know what I mean?

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 10,636 miles

Car-Shopping With Wart

December 23, 2011

I've been car-shopping this week and have gone from test-drive to test-drive in the Fiat 500. My husband, who is immune to the charms of the car, has taken to calling it the Wart — something about it being a little red lump. Probably because that's so cruel, I sometimes call it just plain Wart, which is more endearing. It's the name of the scrawny stable boy in T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone" who turns out to be King Arthur.

I've had fun pulling up at some of the tonier dealerships around town in Wart. Most of the Internet sales guys I've been dealing with haven't seen me arrive in the car, and I told the one who did that I had borrowed it from a friend. I didn't want to imply I'd be trading him in as part of my deal.

If test-driving is like wine tasting, getting back in the Fiat 500 Sport between appointments is like taking a sip of water before sampling the next vintage. It cleanses the driving palate. Having Wart as my test-drive transport also clarified for me that as fun and trendy as he may be, he doesn't have the power, amenities, build quality or design that I would want in a car I'd expect to have for several years.

In that way, he's nothing like the literary Wart. He's not going to magically transform himself into the car of my dreams anytime soon.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,886 miles

I Was Doing It Wrong

December 27, 2011

I've been struggling with the eco:Drive in the Fiat lately. When I insert the USB, I get an "update complete" message, and then the Blue&Me connectivity system tells me to remove the USB. I couldn't figure out how my driving data was being preserved if the stick wasn't in place.

It wasn't being collected, of course. Once I'd RTF eco:Drive instructions, I discovered I'd been incorrectly using the USB. I got it right the first time, but not thereafter, apparently. Here are the steps I should have followed, and will follow from now on.

1) Plug the eco:Drive-ready USB stick into the USB port.

2) Turn on the ignition without switching on the engine. (This is where I screwed up. I had the engine switched on.) eco:Drive will automatically install. Once finished, the "update complete"message will appear in the car's display.

3) Remove the USB stick from the USB port. (The system will tell you to do this. Emphatically. If you don't, the display basically freezes and you can't access the audio system until you shut off the car and remove the USB.)

4) Switch on the engine. After a few seconds, the message "ECODRIVE ON" will appear in the display. eco:Drive is ready to go. Plug the USB stick back into your car to start collecting data.

So simple if you just do what you're supposed to do. Duh.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,921 miles

I Get You

December 30, 2011

Some editors dislike our 2012 Fiat 500. I, on the other hand, really appreciate it for what it is: a great, little city car. I always grab its keyfob off the key board willingly and with a smile on my face, looking forward to its easy shifting and its park-ability, especially when I have to get to an event in car-crowded Hollywood or Downtown. Plus its cute looks never fails to garner smiles from my fellow drivers. A feat in itself.

The 500 actually makes me happy to drive around town. When I've had a car with more power like say our Evo X MR or GT-R, I'd just end up frustrated by the stop and go traffic. It's pure torture to be behind the wheel of a car with so much potential and then not be able to use it."I want to have funnn!" But, the Fiat has just enough get up and go to pass slower drivers if you want to plus why are we in such a hurry all the time anyway?

Sure, it may not be the car for those who like canyon carving, but it's great for canyon cruising.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 10,953 miles

Awaiting the Abarth

December 30, 2011

As long I remember to put it into Sport mode (noticeably sharpens the throttle response) and don't mind winding it out (actually sounds pretty good when you lean on it), our 500 is peppy enough for me. It's kinda fun to fling through corners too, it sticks and despite its tallish stance doesn't lean over much.

Apart from the somewhat too-high seating position (even when the seat is cranked down) and too-light-for-me steering, I rather enjoy blasting around in the 500 Sport. So I'm really looking forward to the Abarth with its tuned suspension and exhaust, upgraded brakes and substantial (60 percent!) power boost — 160 horses to the non-Abarth's 101. As we noted in our L.A. Auto Show coverage of the Abarth, Fiat will unleash the beast sometime in the first half of 2012. Looking forward to that one hitting our road test schedule...

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

A Look Underneath

January 01, 2012

Here's a look under our long-term Fiat 500 courtesy of our new 2-post Rotary Lift. Fair warning: Covered wagons had more sophisticated rear suspensions.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Bene Formaggio!

January 06, 2012

Ok, what the heck does cheese have to do with cars? Well, lemme tell you...

Besides my abiding love for all things motorized, I also have an obsession with food and drink. And that's not at all unique, as I've found through the years.

Case in point: The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. It's one of my favorite places on the planet, right up there with Laguna Seca, Big Sur or pretty much anywhere in Italy. I've been fortunate to befriend the owner, Norbert, who turns out to be a bit of a car nut as we all are. Whenever I get a cool car, I make a point to drop by to see how he reacts. Besides Norbert, there are plenty of other car folk to chat up, one of whom set up the Kulinary Mille that I ran in our long-term Mustang.

Last night, I fulfilled a promise to bring by our Fiat 500. When Norbert saw it he had the same reaction that most people do. It's also the same reaction some people have when they see a puppy. "Awwwwwww," he said as he walked towards the car, with his arms outstretched as though he was going to hug it. "Cute as a button," he exclaimed.

Yes, that's a testament to the Cinqucento's appeal. Norbert has had quite the collection of cars, so he knows his stuff. Jaguar XK120s, Healy 3000s, a small-block-Chevy-powered Ferrari 330 GT, a Porsche Speedster and Ural motorcycle with sidecar have all graced his driveway, but he still pines for a 300SL Gullwing. He's our people.

He seemed to genuinely take to our Fiat 500, noting the abundance of interior space and fun and zippy city car character. He also was quite adamant that he'd prefer one of these to a Mini Cooper (current, not the original) any day. And I'm with him on that.

There's something so distinctly charming about the Fiat. To me, and as much as I like Minis, I think they try too hard to be quirky. Of course, we can't wait for the Abarth to arrive, and hopefully I'll get a reaction out of Norbert, as well as some cheese. Ahhhh, cheese. By the way, pictured above is a triple creme Brillat Savarin that I brought into the office this morning. It didn't last long.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

A Difficult Year

January 09, 2012

As far as the US is concerned, the 500 didn't exactly set things on fire sales-wise in 2011. Chrysler's goal was 50,000 units, but the brand moved just 19,769 Fiat 500s in the US last year.

It's a disappointment, no doubt. Still, plans are on track to expand the Fiat dealer network and grow the model line by 2013.

It's reported that Chrysler/Fiat's CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has set more a more modest US sales target for the 500 in 2012: between 25,000 and 35,000 units.

What do you think? Is the 2012 goal reasonable, or still a tad too optimistic?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

The Luxury of More Space

January 12, 2012

This isn’t a small car at all. It actually creates more space wherever you go.

Every parking spot is one of those wide ones, as if it had been designed for a big rig truck. On the highway, the other cars are miles away in the lane next to you, nowhere close enough to worry about brushing outside mirrors. Other cars don’t even follow too close (except those nitwits in heavy-duty pickups, who try to intimidate everyone with their big grilles).

When you’re driving a small car, seems like you’re always enveloped in an extra large bubble of space. There’s more space, not less. It's the ultimate luxury, and you don’t have to pay extra for it, either.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 11,085 miles.

Put This in Your Boot, Mini.

January 17, 2012

Arguably (or not, actually), the Fiat 500's chief rival is the Mini Cooper. Two tiny, fuel- and space efficient boxes that are fun to buzz around in. Yes, the Cooper is sportier, especially in turbocharged S form. But the forthcoming 500 Abarth looks very promising...

Sorry, I digress, this is supposed to be about something much more exciting...

After some serious procrastination on my part and subsequent urging on the part of the missus, we finally went to the laundromat. Three large gym/duffle bags and an overflowing basket were ready to challenge the 500's cargo capacity. After flipping the rear seats down they all just fit. I was pleasantly surprised, as I was prepared to pile a few of them atop each other.

Of course I had to then see how the 500 compares to the seven-inch-longer Mini Cooper hatchback. Whaddya know; the 500 has 25 percent more max cargo capacity — 30.1 cubic feet versus the Mini's 24 cubes. And with the rear seats up, the 500 again has a sizable advantage, with 9.5 cf versus 5.7 cf. Maybe not as glamorous a victory as a superior slalom time, but more relevant for most folks.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 11,381 miles

A Welcome Wagon?

January 18, 2012

The Fiat 500 has been a hit in Europe but sales in the US have been disappointing. In an effort to expose the brand to a wider audience, Fiat plans to expand its domestic lineup. Looks like the next model to roll into dealerships will be a wagon version of the 500.

Fiat's new five-door will first meet its public at the Geneva Auto Show in March. Of course, in following this kind of expansion, Fiat is taking a page out of Mini's playbook; size-wize, the upcoming wagon is expected to echo the Mini Countryman. Fiat hasn't confirmed a name yet, but the model could very well carry the 500 badge.

What do you think? Will a wagon help Fiat build its US audience?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Canine Equivalents

January 18, 2012

So there we were, sitting at a traffic light with a bucket of fried chicken on my girlfriend's lap. Shuffling across the crosswalk was an older gentleman and his tiny lap dog. Just as they pass the Fiat 500, they both looked over their shoulders at the tiny 500 then keep walking. "That's the dog equivalent of this car," I said. She disagreed. "It should be one of the smoosh-faced yippy dogs," she replied.

"I think I just came up with tomorrow's post," I said triumphantly. Click through to see what I equate the rest of our long-term fleet to...

Ford Explorer and an Old English Sheepdog: Large, with poor visibility (Courtesy of James Riswick)

1985 Porsche 911 and a German Shepard: Obvious comparison, but perhaps this dog is a bit older and a little arthritic.

Mazda Miata and a Shiba Inu: Smaller dog with lots of energy.

Mini Countryman and an English Bulldog: Mini touts its cars as having the Bulldog stance. Fair enough. (Courtesy of Bryn MacKinnon and James Riswick)

Jeep Wrangler and Archie the dog: This is Scott Jacobs' hunting dog. Purpose built and loves the great outdoors.

Volvo S60 and an Afghan Hound: Slightly weird and expensive.

Ford Mustang GT and a Doberman: Sinister, athletic and just damned fierce.

Toyota Camry and "dog": Just a nondescript dog. Maybe a mutt. I dunno. But it's a dog.

I thought about a dog equivalent for the Volt. Maybe a cross-between a cat and dog (hybrid, get it?), but I feared what I might see if I googled it.

I'm sure some will have their own opinions on what dog should go with which car, so feel free to comment on these or any other long-termer.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Abarth to be Abargain?

January 20, 2012

Pricing was recently announced for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. Base price is $22,700 (with destination) and that looks to undercut a similarly-equipped Cooper S ($24,550 with center armrest and Bluetooth/USB/iPod connection options) by nearly two grand.

The Cooper S does have more power (181 hp versus 160 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque versus 170) and an extra gear to work with (6-speed manual versus a 5-speed manual). But it also weighs a little more (2,668 pounds versus 2,533 pounds). And as I'd mentioned in my previous 500 blog, the Fiat holds a significant pack mule advantage.

Comparing some spec chart numbers is all well and good, but I can't wait to see how they compare from a seat 'o the pants perspective.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 11,430 miles

Mondo Fiat, the Backstory

January 25, 2012

The story of how Chrysler and Fiat found each other is an interesting one, since it’s not often that two weak companies can combine to create a single stronger one. And whatever shortfall there might have been in the expected sales of the Fiat 500 through Chrysler outlets in the U.S. last year, there’s no question that these two companies are the ones at which all the carmakers are looking, largely because Fiat and Chrysler are in a position where they must take chances, and that’s always instructive.

If you’re looking for greater insight into how this came about, you could dive into Jennifer Clark’s Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty . It’s a terrific story, far more like a novel than the withered business tome you might expect. In fact, it’s a great story about the way the car business has changed over the last century and all the stuff that goes into playing the game.

Clark’s key insight is the way a business that is essentially family-owned like Fiat has the ability to react quickly in the way a typical Wall Street-style publically owned company cannot, and the way even the new entity’s leadership by Sergio Marchionne expresses these values, as the following excerpts suggest:

“Families and businesses are very different by nature,” [Agnelli heir John Elkann] said in a speech in Chicago at the Family Business Network’s annual summit in 2010. “The value of a family is about being equal and helping one another. Instead, a business is about performance and hierarchy. These two worlds operate and function differently. The lesson is ultimately when a family and a business function, they function together. You have to have a family that works, and a business that works.”

“Risk was something Marchionne knew well. He had first learned about it playing poker with his father back in Canada. It gave him an adrenaline rush. The most important thing about risk, though, was the calculation. The rush itself could be distracting or destructive. Much more interesting was weighing out all the aspects, and trying to stay calm. The cards. The moves. The consequences. Work it all out ahead of time, and then see if you were right or wrong. And in the business world, it was more or less the same thing, he had learned. Only this time it was impossible to stay detached from the risk and its consequences.”

Clark’s experience long ago as an entertainment reporter gives her great appreciation for the social details of her story, while her most recent experience with the Wall Street Journal helps her cut through the jargon of business. In the end, there’s a strong story in the way Fiat changed from a company founded by a cavalry officer with royal connections to an innovative industrial enterprise led by a man who always wears a sweater, not a suit, and the way in which this spirit has revitalized Chrysler.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 11,598 miles

With Optional Rally Package

January 28, 2012

My interest in our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 has flagged over the months, and even though I should be excited about the Abarth version, I haven't been — maybe it's the price (cheaper than a Mini, yes, but not cheaper than something like a Mazda 3, which although bigger is still fun on a back road). Then, someone posted a video of a Swiss rally team racing a 500 Abarth R3T on some tarmac and gravel stages last year on Facebook. Then, I found another video. Now I'm into the idea of the 500 Abarth again. But the R3T needs to turn up at X Games this summer.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

Four-Car All-Star Fiat Comparo

February 07, 2012

We were doing some business at Cars and Coffee last weekend and found ourselves parked in a pretty remote spot when this big white car slotted in beside us.

So, which car would you rather have, a red Fiat 500 Sport or a white Ferrari F430 Scuderia?

Yeah, well, us too. Strangely enough, our little part of the weekly 400-car C/C show had a little something to it, as you can see from this picture of a multi-car comparison.

So how many Fiats do you see in this picture?

There’s the Fiat 500, of course. Then there’s the Ferrari 430 Scuderia.

Then you have a Fiat Dino Spider, a front-engine, rear-drive Fiat-designed car with Pininfarina bodywork and a Ferrari-designed, Fiat-built V6 engine. Built between 1966 and 1973, this car homologated the V6 for Ferrari’s use in racing.

And finally there’s the Ferrari 246 GT, built between 1968 and 1976 and powered by the same V6. Originally both this car and the Fiat Dino were both marketed under the brand name of “Dino,” a tribute to Enzo Ferrari’s son Alfredino, to whom the Old Man always attributed the V6 concept. Both cars were meant as alternatives to the Porsche 911, which had created a whole new market for affordable sports cars.

The Dino brand created more problems than it solved, though, so the 246 GT – Ferrari’s first mid-engine car — finally became a Ferrari while the front-engine car became a Fiat. At least that’s how we understand the story.

What the heck, we really see four Fiats in this picture, anyway. Funny how we all came together just by chance.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 11,755 miles

Going on a Road Trip

February 08, 2012

This Sunday I'll be going on a "business trip" to Vegas, where I'll be driving a couple cars we haven't tested before. I could have requested our Audi A8 or BMW X3 for my journey, but why go with a safe, boring choice? And so I'll be taking our long-term Fiat 500.

This car doesn't have the best highway ride — it's not harsh per se, but it is bouncy over the expansion joints — and the wind noise is pretty significant at 70 mph. So we'll see how long it takes for this stuff to annoy me, or maybe it never will. The seats in this car are pretty cushy for a microcompact and seem like they might be road-trip-worthy.

I'm also going to hook up the car's special USB stick so we can track mpg in Fiat's EcoDrive program. Carroll started us down that path back in December, but we haven't been very diligent about tracking our driving habits, and Fiat doesn't make that super straightforward, as you have to download an application to your computer and then set up your own login credentials — seems like it would be easier if Fiat just let you log into a website with one account that's unique to the car. But whatever, I'll use the Vegas trip to log some data in EcoDrive and report back.

Anything else you'd like to know about how our Cinquecento fares on this road trip?

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 11,916 miles

Henry Ford and Mickey Mouse

February 09, 2012

It’s pretty hard to see the Fiat 500 as anything other than a fashion accessory, lacking only a price tag fluttering from a door handle to be seen as some kind of teen girl’s handbag.

But really what we have here is an answer to a serious question about personal mobility, the thing that all the social scientists are wringing their hands about right now. What the Fiat 500 wants to be is its real self, the original 1936 Fiat Topolino.

And it all started with the two most important personalities in America at the time, Henry Ford and Mickey Mouse.

We think of the 2012 Fiat 500 as the retro version of the Fiat Nuova of 1957, but actually the Fiat 500 goes back to the 1930s and the onset of the Great Depression. Times were tough (just like now), and everyone wanted an updated Ford Model T — a purely practical car, only modern.

Fiat’s chairman (and majority owner) Giovanni Agnelli had been to see Henry Ford in 1906 and 1012, and indeed had created the Fiat Zero as a kind of Ford Model T for Italy. He even had built the Lingotto assembly plant (Europe’s largest) in 1916 with Ford’s Highland Park factory in mind — the raw materials went in on the ground floor and then the chassis were moved from floor to floor ever upward through the building until they emerged on the roof, where they were driven around a test track. (The Lingotto plant closed in 1982, but then the Agnelli family helped rebuild it into a spectacular complex that features a theater, convention center and a shopping plaza, plus a heli-pad overlooks the old test track on the roof.)

Once the Great Depression deepened in 1933, Agnelli asked for an affordable small car, something like the crude Austin 7, only modern like the many rear-engine designs then being discussed in Germany. Agnelli asked his designers to create a people’s car, and chief designer Oreste Lardone proposed a car with an air-cooled engine.

Once the prototype was complete, a demonstration was arranged. Agnelli naturally took a ride as a passenger, and naturally the car caught fire. Once Agnelli scrambled free of the flaming prototype, he promptly fired his chief designer and put young Dante Giacosa in charge of the project.

With the front-engine, rear-drive Fiat 500, Giacosa began a career that would include many innovative designs. The Fiat 500’s innovations began with a water-cooled engine with its radiator packaged behind the engine for a more modern and aerodynamic front grille. Meanwhile, the 13-hp, side-valve, 569cc four-cylinder engine worked through a four-speed transmission with synchromesh on the top two ratios. The Fiat 500 also had independent front suspension and hydraulically actuated brakes.

To produce the Fiat 500, Agnelli built the Mirafiori plant as a down-size version of Ford’s River Rouge factory. As the Fiat 500 came off the production line in 1936, one of the most popular publications in Italy happened to be a digest of comics called Topolino, or “Little Mouse.” It was, of course, all about Mickey Mouse, the scrappy, everyman animated character produced by Walt Disney. The nickname quickly attached itself to the Fiat 500, also a kind of scrappy, everyman character. Some 122,000 examples were made of this original design by 1948, when it was superseded by a rebodied version with a larger, more powerful engine. Ultimately, some 520,000 Topolinos were made before production ended in 1954.

There isn’t any good reason why the Fiat Topolino should be remembered today (top speed, 54 mph), and yet it’s a kind of secret collectible car. Great examples can fetch as much as $45,000 at auction, and Jay Leno has one. There’s even a Topolino character in Cars 2.

So when I see the Fiat 500, it’s more than a fashion accessory to me. It can look totally out of place on an America turnpike, but it makes me think of the everyman cars of the past, those great people’s cars that put the whole world on wheels, like the Ford Model T, Austin 7, Fiat Topolino, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault 4CV, Citroen 2Cv, and even the Honda Civic.

It also makes me think of the future of everyman cars.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor,

Thinking Ahead

February 09, 2012

As the car sign-out clipboard made its rounds yesterday, I made a very wise decision. I knew I was heading to a housewarming party on a street with limited parking.

I knew I needed something small. Our Sonic was already spoken for, as was the Mazda 3. The Porsche would be a pain to parallel park, and I don't like leaving it on the street, anyway. But the Fiat 500 was available. Score!

What a great little city car this is. I slalomed past slower drivers clogging the boulevards and made a quick recon pass by the party. There was a spot just big enough for the Cinqucento and not much else. Perfect. I would've loved to have pulled an e-brake slide into the spot, but I'm sure that my fellow editors would have frowned upon the flat-spotted rear tires; but what an entrance that would have made.

Nope, the Fiat slipped right into place while other guests kept circling the block like vultures over a kill. Perhaps next time I'll bring the Jeep and just park it on the lawn.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

Most Memorable Super Bowl Ad Award Goes To...

February 10, 2012

It's been almost a week since all those much anticipated Super Bowl car ads aired for the first time. Which one has stuck with you? (Note: I don't have a TV so don't know how often these are airing on network TV.) Frankly I'm surprised editor Al "Mr. Jennifer Lopez" Austria wasn't all over the Fiat 500 Abarth's Super Bowl ad. I mean, even I thought it was the best ad that aired during the game. Funny, stylish and sexy. Great shoes, supermodel Catrinel Menghia! J-Lo? Feh. By the way, what was Clint Eastwood selling again?

Get More: VH1 Pop Up Video

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

I've Got My Work Cut Out for Me

February 14, 2012

If you've read any of my previous road-trip blog entries ( boring riveting as they are), you know that I'm always late getting out the door, so the outbound leg of the trip usually under-delivers on the mpg front. So it was with the 2012 Fiat 500. I left for Vegas late, and although I haven't fueled up yet since arriving here, one look at my Eco:Drive results (next page) tells you I probably didn't do that well. No matter, I plan to make up for it on the trip back, and my goal is a passing grade — 60 or better.

A couple of you asked for a detailed report on the cabin noise situation at highway speeds. And at 65 mph and up, the primary noise source is wind noise off the mirrors (they're big, I guess because of the relatively big blind spot on the driver side), followed in order by engine noise and road noise — and to my ears, those two sometimes swap places depending on what's going on. That is, on level terrain when you're not trying to pass, road noise is more prominent.

During sustained acceleration up the many steady grades on Interstate 15, you definitely hear the 1.4-liter engine working. It's not an unpleasant noise — this is a respectably smooth, sweet-tempered engine, but it works hard to keep this car moving. A downshift to 4th was often necessary on these grades, but not as often as I would have thought: Fifth is geared tall enough to keep the engine from screaming (2,900 at 70 mph, and 3,400ish as I recall at 8x mph), but there's still room to accelerate just a bit in-gear.

Overall, the Fiat 500 is on the louder side of the spectrum for a subcompact — and keep in mind that's to my ears only and not based on an objective comparison of our 70-mph decibel readings. I find the Chevrolet Sonic, (2012) Hyundai Accent and Mazda 2 to be more serene. I'd probably add the Ford Fiesta to the serenity list, but I haven't driven one in a while. In our testing, the Mini Cooper returned similar decibel readings (to the Fiat's), and I feel like you're trading wind noise for road noise; the Mini has a lot less of the former but more of the latter, thanks to its run-flats. But the Mini seems quieter overall, because its direct-injected (n.a.) 1.6-liter engine never has to work anywhere near as hard.

I wouldn't call the Cinquecento intolerably loud on a road trip. A Miata is far, far louder, as is an Evo of any generation. It's all about expectations. I'd take it on a road trip again and I wouldn't go insane (at least not because of the noise from the car), and I probably wouldn't experience hearing loss because of it.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 12,307 miles

Stop Robo-Calling Me!

February 14, 2012

Dear Orange Coast Fiat:

Stop calling me to bring our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport in for service. I really do loathe robo-calls, and I think I've received three in the last couple weeks alone. At least have the decency to call in person so I can tell you to put yourself on the Do Not Call list.

You may not know this about me, but the more you call the less I want to come back to your establishment. This goes double for automated calls with no actual human being on the line. I do not consider these calls a convenience. If they remind me of anything at all it's that maybe I should do the next oil change myself or go to one of your competitors.

You put a little reminder sticker on the windshield, remember? I have the receipt and I know where you are. I came to you all on my own the first time, without any advertising on your part. Let's leave it at that, shall we?


Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

PS: This goes for you, too Weir Canyon Acura and Quality Toyota. Heck, we don't even own the Sienna anymore.

PPSS: Thanks to Weir Canyon Honda, who has enjoyed my continued business without ever once calling me, robo or otherwise, except to inform me that my car was ready for pickup. Please note, however, that I round file your snail-mail special offers as soon as they arrive. At least those don't get my phone ringing in the middle of dinner.

Road Trip Fuel Economy

February 16, 2012

With rare exception, efficient driving is not my strong suit, but on my trip back from Vegas, I was determined to get a passing grade from Fiat's Eco:Drive app. And so I abandoned the cutthroat environment that is Interstate 15, and cut up U.S. 95, followed it to Nevada 374, which becomes Daylight Pass Road, which I then followed to the California 190, and then to Panamint Valley Road. It was neat. I'd never been to Death Valley. It was 37 and snowing as I entered the park, and 62 degrees at sea level. Next time, though, I'll go through Badwater instead of Trona.

This was over 400 miles of driving, and while I didn't have the time to go exactly the speed limit on all the little roads, I tried to stay within 5 mph of it and minimize heavy throttle inputs. However, it was tough to avoid the latter on the short but steep climb out of Death Valley... you go from sea level to nearly 5,000 feet in what I'd guess was less than 10 miles. The 1.4-liter engine got winded, struggling to hold 45 mph in 4th gear with the throttle pinned. (Initially, I didn't even realize I was at full throttle — given the lack of speed — until I noticed the pedal wouldn't "go" anymore. <pointless detail that shouldn't have been shared> I considered a downshift to 3rd, but with no one behind me, I just eased up a little and continued on. I let the engine struggle like that for, I don't know, 3-4 hours, er, wait, 3-4 minutes, and only then, did I take pity on it and downshift to 3rd.</pointless detail that shouldn't have been shared>)

So how'd I do?

Uh, well, *trying* to drive more efficiently netted another 0.7 mpg.

294.4 miles --> 8.221 gallons of 91 --> 35.8 mpg

356.8 miles --> 9.762 gallons of 91 --> 36.5 mpg

That's not even close to the highwater mark of 39.4 mpg the Edmunds crew achieved during Fuel Sipper Smackdown 4 (the Fiat is rated 30 city/38 highway/33 combined with the manual gearbox).

And I still got a failing grade from the Italians, creeping up to only 45 after Sunday's score of 41. Man. At least Death Valley was spectacular. More thoughts from the trip tomorrow.

View Larger Map

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 12,674 miles

Shocking Long-Haul Comfort

February 17, 2012

Here's something I didn't expect from our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Serious comfort over 9 hours of driving. Nine hours. That's how long it took me to make it back from Vegas using back roads, stopping for photos, stopping for lunch, stopping for coffee and detouring onto California Highway 58 after Highway 14 closed near Mojave (overturned 18-wheeler, a Cal Trans officer told me, which was sad news but not surprising — it was 38 degrees and windy and a wintry mix was falling).

If you'd told me before the trip that I'd last that long in the Fiat without getting all kinked up, uncomfortable and generally grumpy, I wouldn't have believed you. But this car turned out to be a great pick for 450 slow miles — at least in the comfort department. Seriously.

See, the Fiat is no fun on Los Angeles freeways, because they're pretty much all made of grooved concrete slabs, and with its short wheelbase, the little car just bounces around over everything. But it's a different story once you get out of the city and out on the highway. Lots of asphalt out here and the ride smoothes out considerably. Compliance is good, and although the 500 gets unsettled over really gnarly patches, most of the time it's decently controlled and not annoying.

Then, there are the seats. This is a city car. So there's no reason it should have good seats, right? After all, the seats in other city cars (Smart Fortwo, Prius, Insight) are flat and get uncomfy quickly. But not the Fiat's driver seat.

The seat is well shaped, with functional lateral bolstering, and thick cushioning. Not once did I get uncomfortable. My back never got sore. Never got dead butt.

Before the trip, I figured I'd have to use cruise control a lot so I'd be able to move my legs around. And while I used it plenty, it wasn't because my legs were cramped. This is a small car, but the driver footwell is quite wide and, thanks to the shape of the center console (it gets narrower as it extends away from the dash), I had ample room so that my right knee wasn't always pressed up against it.

Now I'm not saying this would be a comfortable car if you're 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, but if you're average size (5-foot-10, 160ish), you'll do fine.

I think somebody asked about visibility from the driver seat... as in, can I see traffic lights if I pulled up to an intersection and I'm first in line? I don't have this problem, but I'm not the best person to answer this question, because I'm more legs and than torso — so I don't sit up that tall in most cars and the windshield usually ends up being at the correct height.

Final thoughts and ramblings on the 722-mile road trip coming soon.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 12,744 miles

Second interior photo by Kurt Niebuhr

Let's Celebrate Presidents Day With a Caption Contest

February 20, 2012

Senior Editor Erin Riches sent me this photo of our Fiat 500 so we figured we'd have a holiday caption contest. We haven't had one in a long time. I'll try to dig up some prizes.

What's your caption?

We'll post our favorite on Tuesday.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Our Favorite Caption

February 21, 2012

Thanks to technetium99 for our favorite caption.

Here are the others that lit our fire:

America's two biggest duds. (bmwrxsti)
That thing is going to rip everything Abarth. (questionlp)
The Italian Bomb (ergsum)
I think they're taking the Pop trim a bit too seriously here. (revn)
unMatched performance (snipenet)
Sending Jenny to a far away block. (blueprint1)
Fiat 500 ACME pkg. (blueprint1)
The Rigatoni Rocket (jmk261)
A lot of bang for a few dead presidents! (ergsum)
Fiat 500 alot of BANG for your buck (gsxrbean)
Spaghetti Western (snipenet)
Not all its cracked up to be. (pengwin)
I said that we might dyno test it, not dynamite test it! (ergsum)
Cinquecento meets Ottocento.... (lmbvette)
I remember them being smaller in my day. (aleclance)
Leave the Firecrackers, take the cannolis... (jmk261)
Objects are smaller than they appear. (mnorm1)
FIAT 500 with the new M800 package. Just the thing for explosive acceleration! (zman24)
Catrinel Menghia gets some competition from a redheaded bombshell. (teampenske3)
What does this photo and Donna have in common? They are both Italian bombshells. (ergsum)
If someone lights that fuse, even Tony won't be able to Fix It Again.... (technetium99)
Fire It Again, Tony. (kain77)
Napolean Dynamite meets Napolean BlownAbarth (noburgers)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can choose one of these three prizes:

— vintage-looking Chevrolet t-shirt - gray XL
— vintage-looking Chevrolet t-shirt - blue XXL
— Kia Soul die cast metal car

Or if there's anything your remember from a past contest that hasn't been claimed.

Thanks for playing.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Small Grievances from the Road

February 22, 2012

Seven-hundred twenty-two miles of solo driving provides ample time to reflect on a car's faults, not to mention my own faults, and the faults of my close friends and family. But today I'll just tell you about a couple issues I noticed in our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport during my Vegas road trip with a detour through Death Valley.

The first concerns the sun visors.

The Fiat's visors are small and cheap and non-extendable. When the mid-afternoon sun was coming through just right or just left of the A-pillar (as seen here), the driver-side visor was effective. When it was in any other position relative to the small Rosso hatchback, the visor was wholly ineffective. And since this is a two-door, there's a quite a bit of side glass area for the light to penetrate.

The other issue concerns the car's 12-volt power point. It only has one. It could really use two — one for a portable navigation unit and the other for a radar detector. (And by the way, that triple cupholder unit in this picture? It really only holds one cup at a time, but at least it holds that cup securely.)

Now, I can imagine what you might be thinking: I should should just plug an iOS device into the USB input and use that for navigation. However, in Death Valley, AT&T's coverage was spotty so I relished the more consistent performance of this trusty old Nuvi — and simply drove in a manner that didn't necessitate use of a radar detector.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

Fiat Owner <3 Her 500C

February 27, 2012

It's always fun to see how much car owners love their daily drivers. Case in point: my friend Jo and her 2012 Fiat 500C.

She bought it wanting to transition to something more fuel frugal than her old Land Rover. And as a fan of all cute things, she briefly debated between the Fiat and the Mini but chose the former because it was "more girly" and because it "looked vintage (colors) but is totally modern." Considering the criteria, I'd say she made the right choice. Above is her 500 with her dog Maxie at the wheel.

Jo has taken a bunch of Instagram shots of her ride, created a photo album for it on her Facebook page and even made a Pinterest board about all things Fiat 500. But I really love how she personalized her car.

Since Jo is a huge foodie, particularly a fan of pork, she has a couple of stuffed animal pigs buckled in the backseat as well as little pig toys hanging from her rearview mirror.

And to protect her seat, she wraps it up in a colorful cheery scarf.

Naturally, she named her car. "I named her Fiona because like the Shameless character, my Fiat is a bit of a tart AND she has her top down often!" So fun!

How do you personalize your car, and do you have a name for it?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

I'd Recommend It

February 27, 2012

When people find out that I work at Edmunds they usually ask me for recommendations on cars. And I tailor my answer to what their stated needs are. But it seems that lately I've been recommending the 2012 Fiat 500...a lot.

Let me preface this by saying that I'll only recommend it to folks who aren't car guys for obvious reasons that we've already stated in previous Fiat 500 posts. But when one friend said he was thinking of trading in his manual transmission daily driver for an automatic because he hated dealing with the clutch in rush-hour traffic, I couldn't help but bring up the Fiat's light clutch. Another friend asked about cars with great fuel economy and I pointed out how our Fiat is usually in the top 4 of long-termers with the best average mpg. I don't remember the last time I've recommended one car more than others so often. But then again, I could just be partial to the Fiat's cute looks.

So yeah, if you're not a car guy and are just looking for a great city car with decent fuel economy and high smile-inducing factor then you can't go wrong with the Fiat 500. And nope, this post isn't sponsored.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 12,990 miles


February 28, 2012

A couple days before my trip to Vegas, one of you asked me to report on whether or not other motorists show respect for the 2012 Fiat 500 out on the open road, in this case, Interstate 15. Today, while driving around Los Angeles in our NSX, I remembered that I never answered this question.

Not surprisingly, I found the motorists on I-15 short on patience — and especially with regard to our 500. A typical scenario went something like this: The Fiat and I are in a line of cars in the No. 1 lane trying to pass a truck in the No. 2 lane (there are only two lanes in either direction for long stretches on the 15). Finally, the (often slow) car ahead of me would complete its pass, and I'd pedal the Fiat a little to work up my speed so that I could complete my pass more quickly. This usually earned no credit with the motorist directly behind me, who in spite of the increase in speed, would move ever closer to the 500's bumper and (sometimes) dance around behind me as if to say, "You're the real problem, Little Car! You're slow and lame and your lack of power is the direct cause of all traffic jams on this road."

Elsewhere, though, it's a totally different story.

People love the 500. I got plenty of compliments at gas stations, and these tourists in Death Valley National Park wanted to have their photo taken with the car.

Driving the NSX around town today elicited different reactions. This is the kind of car that owns the open road, at least the ones where precise handling matters more than massive torque (torque rules on I-15, of course). But around town, not many people respect it. Mind you, there are a lot of SUV drivers who simply don't see it. But there's also a population of utility vehicle drivers who clearly do see it, but apparently sense that it has to be driven with extreme care (due to many people not seeing it, due to its low clearance over ruts and dips and due to it being more visible to law enforcement), and take advantage by moving to occupy its spot in traffic any old time they want.

In reality, it's all small potatoes, and it just means I need to remove the chip from my shoulder when driving the 500 and the NSX.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

Size Matters

February 28, 2012

Last night during a trip to the local Whole Foods, the 500 demonstrated why it's a perfect little city car. Easy in and easy out, up and down the narrow ramp leading to the subterranean parking structure.

And parking was effortless — look at all that room I had available in the store's compact parking spot. In so many situations, small works best for big-city driving.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 13,006 miles

Doing Retro Look Best?

February 29, 2012

Photo from Fiat USA Facebook page

The other day as I was tooling around in our 2012 Fiat 500, a 2002 Ford Thunderbird with a hardtop pulled out in front of me. I know it's not a popular car with the "cool kids" but I remember when it first came out and how I liked its nod to the first generation of the 'Bird. Naturally that got me thinking about our Fiat's retro look, which I think is a nicely done reinterpretation of the classic. Not as diminutive as the original but you can still see the classic cues in its headlights and sleek, simple style.

But which retro look do you think paid homage to its predecessor the best?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

It's Big in Texas

March 01, 2012

A Wall Street Journal article yesterday reported that in Texas, a state whose inhabitants have been known to go big with everything from hair height to food portions, car buyers are skewing small for a change, adding microcars like the 2012 Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper to their garage. In fact Texas is the Fiat 500's third largest market, behind California and Florida.

But before you start imagining the likes of J.R. Ewing and Sgt. Cordell Walker-types driving around in little cars, the article points out that Fiat owners tend to be of the childless Democratic urbanite variety. "...Austin's technology-oriented enclave has an ideal demographic for the pint-size 500. [Fiat of Austin strategy manager Lisa Copeland] polls her clients and has found 75% are Democrats, and 75% don't have children at home." (Wall Street Journal)

Just as well since the Fiat probably doesn't have enough room for J.R. and Walker's 10-gallon hats anyway.

In other news, I have been noticing more and more Fiats out on SoCal roads lately. Yay! My dream of distracted L.A. drivers downsizing from their G-Wagens and Land Rovers may not be a pipe dream after all.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

House Arrest

March 01, 2012

It seems that many people enjoyed the Fiat 500 Abarth commercial that ran during the Superbowl and the 2011 LA Auto Show. Fiat just released the U.S. follow-up ad for the Abarth.

This new commercial again stars Romanian model Catrinel Menghia. But this time it also features Two and a Half Men. Actually, a former Two and a Half Man.

The commercial shows the Abarth screaming around inside a fancy house, but it's all computer-generated fantasy.

So while the first Abarth commercial was sexy and sophisticated, the new one featuring this Winning actor and CGI trickery is like an Ed Hardy t-shirt.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 13,111 miles

Double Thumbs Up!

March 05, 2012

True story: I was driving around in our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 Sport this weekend and was stopped at a light in Santa Monica. I looked up at the inside mirror and the guy in the car behind me was giving me the double thumbs up (dramatized in the photo below by Borat.)

Granted, the guy was in a Prius, but still...

At first I thought the guy was just messing with me, but he was genuine. This car has been out for almost a year and it still elicits strong positive reactions. Additionally, I don't see too many 500s in car crazy LA, so it's still a bit of a novelty.

Even with its many faults, you can't help but like the Fiat 500. The Fiat 500 really is The Happy Car.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 13,300 miles

What Are You Looking At?

March 05, 2012

I drove the Fiat 500 Abarth last week. It was interesting right up until this happened. That's Catrinel Menghia (Marlon). You know who she is.

Fiat hauled her out to give journalists something to gawk at during the Abarth's introduction in Vegas. She was so effective they had to remove her after about five minutes to refocus attention on the car.

It was overwhelming. Car wasn't bad, either.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Parts Hauler? Not so Much.

March 08, 2012

I sold one of my personal cars to purchase a Yamaha YZF-R1. Mid-life crisis, much? No, those who know me will say it's a full-life crisis. It took a few weeks between selling the car and finally taking delivery of the bike (an eternity, in my mind), and in the meantime, I did some shopping.

With the left over funds from the car sale, I spent like a drunken sailor. Of course, when I received the biggest shipment (Yoshimura carbon fiber exhaust slip-ons) I had already signed-out the Fiat 500. It fit, but just barely. You'll see more of the bike when I start posting on our Reader's Ride blog.

What is it with me, bikes and the Fiat?

The box required me to fold the rear seats flat. Not a big deal, I know, but I suppose it's a good thing I wasn't hauling car parts. I'm pretty sure the Fiat can hold a set of its own tires, but I doubt it would be able to carry tires for the Mustang or a Viper.

Really, though, how much (or little) do you think we can cram into the 500? How many Editors? How many bottles of beer?

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 13,320 miles

All I'm Gonna Say Is...

March 09, 2012


Had this one last night, and I signed out our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport this weekend for good measure. But I can already tell that if I was set on buying a Fiat 500, the Abarth is more my style (read: fast). Cuz, you know, I wasn't sure before.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Hits, Misses

March 09, 2012

I hadn't been in the 500 for awhile, and started missing it ever since that Super Bowl commercial. I vowed I'd grab the keys at the next opportunity. I remember not liking it much the first time and needed to remember why. I recently signed it out for an evening, but before calling it a day, I drove Jacquot to retrieve the Camry from service.

Josh mocked my initial attempts to praise the half-pint, but then I saw the futility. Where's my seat recliner? Left, lean, look, reach. Huh? Oh, right. It's on the inboard side of the seat.

It's stuffy in this car. Where are the window controls? Aside the shifter, of course. Perfectly logical place. Man, this late afternoon sun is bright. Adjust the sun visor. Why won't it snap back into place? Oh, the open receiver tab faces the windshield, so you first have to clear the tab, then pull it back to snap into place. Makes sense.

Finally parked at home, grab my backpack off the floor. What's it stuck on? Ah, the seat slider of course, which extends out about two feet from the bottom of the seat. Handy.

It's easy to be flip about the 500. But despite some of its baffling details, it’s hard not to like it. It's eager. It buzzes and whines when you spur it, but it'll move for you. It'll dart into that gap between stopped traffic and the right-hand turn lane you want. The shift action is nice.

It's less suited for highway travel, though. Likes to wander at highway speeds and requires constant steering adjustment, like piloting a Zodiac in small swells. I wonder how much more contact patch we can fit in those wheel wells.

The 500's limits make me like it even a little more. It's purpose-built for the city. Great on the tight streets and parking around the office, much like the Sonic. Good enough acceleration to mesh with the stoplight rhythms, and small enough to weave around buses and fixie bikes. An errand car.

That may sound like faint praise, but cars like this actually motivate me to hack away at the to-do list. Bank, post office, market, deserted industrial park; even though I'd probably opt for a Mazda2 before the 500, this is the kind of car that could help you get things done.

VW sold Fiat a surplus experimental seat design.

Because the transmission interface is where we naturally look for window controls.

Win: captain's armrest. Especially in this class.

Push me, pull me: sun visor takes a minute to figure out for the first time. While driving.

Don't catch your ankle monitor on the way out.

Hey, it's the 500 ascending and descending the Rubicon.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Center Stack Band-Aid

March 12, 2012

Four simple knobs: that's what our 2012 Fiat 500 brings to the HVAC party. At first I found it odd that the little Fiats aren't level with the horizon, as the fan speed numbers and airflow icons are, but I've gotten over it. I'll take classic rotary controls every time.

But I can't help seeing an "ouchless" Band-Aid bandage, complete with air holes in the wound area. Maybe now your perception will be altered forever, too. You're welcome a lot.

In actual fact it's either the microphone for the Bluetooth handsfree phone hookup (possible) or an air sampling port for the optional automatic climate control system that our 500 doesn't have (probable.) I know I'm sticking my neck out by saying this, but the manual is mum on the subject.

Rip it off and give it some air, already. No, not slow. Do it fast. It hurts less that way.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13,430 miles

Doesn't Work on the Weekends

March 12, 2012

Just a "This might be broken" report. Apparently the trunk release button for our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is broken, in that if you're lucky enough to be able to open the trunk to put something in it, nine times out of 10 you might not be able to get it out again. The only option at this point is to fold the backseat down and extract said trunk items the hard way.

This weekend I stowed my laptop bag in the trunk and when I got to my destination, went to open the hatch by pressing the trunk release button on the key fob and then pressing the button on the hatch under the "500" on the grab handle. But it wouldn't open. So then I tried the unlock button on the key fob and pressed the button on the trunk again. Nuthin'.

To make sure it wasn't just me and my bad luck with technology, I had another editor give it a go. He did the same things I did with the same result. "Yup, it's broken," he confirmed.

And this morning, three different car wash attendants tried it and couldn't get it open as well. On one hand, I'm glad it didn't work for them because then I would have felt extra stupid but on the other hand, I'd like this feature to work, ya know.

Fortunately, when I got to work and tried it again, it worked. Pfew! Three times in a row, nonetheless!

If this sort of thing happened to your car, would you take it in to get attended to right away or wait until you have to take your car in for another more serious issue? (Luckily, we have a vehicle testing manager to take care of such things for us — making appointments, driving the car to the dealership, etc. — and lots of back-up cars should the car have to stay overnight so it's not an inconvenience to attend to non-dire issues.)

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Bose Audio, Standard

March 13, 2012

$6,300 for the Bang & Olufsen sound system in our long-term 2012 Audi A8L?? For that price, the A8 should buy you dinner before you drive it, and then make you breakfast the following morning.

Our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, on the other hand, has a Bose Audio system standard (on the Sport, Lounge, and Gucci; optional on the Pop.) The Fiat materials say they are Bose Energy Efficient Series with 6 speakers and a sub.

The system sounds just OK; I find that Bose systems are hit and miss. And this one doesn't sound that great — but it's included in the $19,200 price!

What's your favorite premium-branded audio system and how much would you be willing to pay for it?

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~13,500 miles

Red and Black and Abarth Racy

March 13, 2012

Caroline used one word to describe driving our just-visiting 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. I have a similar word for the interior surfaces: Ooooh.

The "nero/rosso" leather surfaces are wickedly contrasty without being garish (unlike the execution I saw in a 2011 BMW 328i. Even the saleswoman said it evoked a bordello).

I also like the red accent stitching. All in all, It's a nice step up from our workaday 500. Unfortunately, as kitted out, this is a $27,000 car.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor

Serious Blind Spot

March 16, 2012

This is a very good likeness to the rear three-quarter view I have when driving the Fiat 500, at least on the driver's side. That's one cumbersome blind spot, to say the least. Certainly not what you want to deal with when making the type of quick lane changes that are required while commuting on L.A.'s overcrowded highways. Or anywhere, really.

I think part of the problem is that I have shorter-than-average legs, so the driver's seat is fairly far forward. Because of that, I basically can't see anything out of the rear-seat side window at all.

In sum, what do I have the best view of? The B-pillar.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 13,682 miles.

All I Need (again)

March 19, 2012

Some of you might remember that I was happy to find the (recently departed) 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman All4 was able to accept and play my iPhone's Pandora app; even displaying the song title on the car's head unit.

Well, I tried to play Pandora through the USB connection in our new Fiat and voila! But here's the strangest part: Same song title, but different artist this time. The first time it was, as some of you suspected, Air. This time it was Radiohead.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton

A Nice Pair

March 19, 2012

Not too far from Casahashi, I had to stop for "supplies." I couldn't help taking advantage of this pair and the street markings. Not strong enough for a caption contest, but feel free to give it a try anyway.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,889 miles

Chamber of Commerce Photo Day

March 19, 2012

Okay, so my Saturday might go down as a bummer-day quadfecta (which I believe comes right after the trifecta): Non-stop rain, finishing my taxes, paying bills, and doing all the laundry. I feel better for doing it, but the next day was my reward — and here it is my friends. L.A. rarely looks this spectacular and the freeways are rarely this empty. All were taken on the way to Casahashi to watch a recording of the Formula One season opener. Also, I know I've already showed you how decent the freeway ride in this Fiat 500. Well, I take it back. All of it. Maybe it has loosened up over time, but it now feels like all spring and no damper.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,802 miles

Low Memory? This can't be good.

March 19, 2012

I searched both the basic and supplementary owner's manuals for this warning message to no avail. A quick internet search reveals that it has to do with Fiat's Eco:Drive program and the driving data it has been accumulating. It looks like we've logged almost 3,000 miles since the last data offload and the car is letting us know. Since Carroll detailed the oh-so-simple process here, I'll get right on it. Oh, Carroll?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,754 miles

It Likes Bikes

March 21, 2012

Many cities in the U.S. are working hard to make themselves more bicycle-friendly. Lovely Long Beach, where I live, is one of them. A couple of major streets now have green-painted lanes, reminding drivers that bicycles are vehicles and (in California, anyway) have rights to shared roadways.

There's well-documented tension between bicyclists and motorists, with each group sometimes acting as though they have exclusive rights to the streets. As I drove our Fiat 500 yesterday, I realized what a bike-friendly car it is. Its compact size makes it easy to give bicyclists the 3 feet of clearance they need for safety. There's less chance of a "dooring" incident. And the Fiat is fun for cyclists, too. They finally have a car they can beat from a dead stop at a red light.

Kidding. Only kidding.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @13,986 miles

The Great TMZ Abarth Race

March 21, 2012

Celebrity gossip website and TV show TMZ is popular in our office, and in Los Angeles too. Why? Because everybody loves a good train wreck — especially with regard to celebrities.

Well guess what? TMZ has a new sponsor: Fiat. And to showcase the 500 Abarth, TMZ will pit two of its staffers, Max (surfer dude) and Peter (The Irish), in a contest driving Abarths in Marina Del Rey, past a group of 25-30 girls. And the winner — actually, how could there possibly be any losers in this?

Yeah, we know you're busy with your philharmonic tickets and your Mensa meetings. But you'll watch the video of this stunt anyway when I post it next week. Like a Nascar crash, it will be hard to resist.

It may not turn around the 500's fortunes in the U.S, but it will certainly be more interesting than another JLo commercial.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~14,000 miles

The Optional Nav

March 21, 2012

When we first got our 2012 Fiat 500, we spent a significant amount of time deciding what we should/should not get on it. One of the items we dismissed first was the $400 TomTom navigation system.

Too bad, too, because this system is kind of neat.

The TomTom navigation system fits into a small bracket that plugs directly into the dash (and unfortunately right in the lower corner of the driver's field of vision) providing power and easing the connection to the BLUE&ME system.

Here's the bad news: BLUE&ME isn't very good. It's illogical, hard to use and, half the time, worse than doing nothing at all. Fiat / TomTom says the five buttons on the wheel "provide the most comfortable way of controlling your navigation device safely." They aren't.

Here's the good news: TomTom makes really good navigation systems that are easy to use and at no point does this system lock the driver (or passenger) our of directly inputting information.

So it's $400 for, essentially, a really nice cradle and a 4.3" TomTom nav system that'll run you about $100 on Amazon. Is the dock worth $300? No, probably not. Would I shell out $300 on top of a bill that's already $19,200? Yes. Absolutely. It's cooler than a suction-cup mount and doesn't leave spit all over the window.

For more on the car this nav came in, see Josh's full test of the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Rear Hatch Won't Open

March 26, 2012

I tried to open the rear hatch of our 2012 Fiat 500 this weekend and it wouldn't budge. After confirming it was unlocked I made a second attempt but with the same result. Various combinations of locking and unlocking the doors failed as well. I resorted to climibing inside and lowering the rear seatbacks to get my stuff out.

About an hour later I returned to the Fiat to try once more. The rear hatch opened perfectly. It did so time and again as if nothing happened. That was weird.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 14,127 miles

Important! Motor Vehicle Notification

March 27, 2012

A mailer arrived from Chrysler regarding our 2012 Fiat 500 yesterday. We opened the envelope to find an important typed letter and this wrench. At first we thought it was silly. But some research led us to an unfortunate discovery.

First things first. The letter read:

"We are recommending the following improvement be performed on some 2012 model year Fiat 500 vehicles equipped with a power sunroof.

Recommended Service: The sunroof hex wrench for your vehicle's sunroof was inadvertently omitted from the glove box during the vehicle manufacturing process.

What you should do: Please place the sunroof hex wrench, enclosed with this letter, in your vehicle's glove box for use by you or future owners. Refer to your owner's manual for complete details on the use of this hex wrench."

Why the wrench? Well, if for any reason the sunroof malfunctions, you use it to turn a mechanism that will manually operate the sunroof. The slot made to receive this wrench is located immediately to the rear of the window and identified by a plastic tab in the headliner, which is removed for use. That is, unless you car was built as early as ours.

Our car was built March 2011. This means the tab does not exist. Instead, access to the slot requires removing the headliner. I hope we are never in a situation that this needs to happen.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 14,127 miles

2012 Fiat 500 Sport vs. 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

March 27, 2012

Our recent full test of the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth revealed a wickedly fun little car that made way-cool noises. It also stood in stark contrast to the 2012 Fiat 500 Sport that resides in our long-term fleet. Yes, it has Sport in its name, but on the "Sport" scale it's badminton to the Abarth's short-track speedskating. And in terms of spokesmodels, J. Lo is no Catrinel Menghia.

But back to cars. The Fiat 500 Abarth has 160 horsepower. The 500 Sport has 101. The Abarth has sticky summer tires, while the 500 Sport has long-life all-seasoners. How stark is the difference on the track? Read on.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth 2012 Fiat 500 Sport

0-30 (sec.): 2.6 3.2
0-45 (sec.): 4.6 6.3
0-60 (sec.): 7.1 10.5
0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec.): 6.7 10.3
0-75 (sec.): 10.4 16.8
1/4-mile (sec @ mph): 15.3 @ 88.8 17.6 @ 76.6

30-0 (ft): 30 31
60-0 (ft): 123 119
Skid pad lateral accel (g): 0.87 0.80
Slalom 68.8 65.3 (with ESC on)

Vehicle: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

Odometer: 1,876
Date: 3/06/2012
Driver: Josh Jacquot
Price: $26,900 (as tested)

Drive Type: Front engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission Type: Five-speed manual
Engine Type: Turbocharged, inline-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in): 1,368/83
Redline (rpm): 6,500
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 160 @ 5,500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 170 @ 2,500
Brake Type (front): 11.1-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Brake Type (rear): 9.4-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Suspension Type(front): Independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, Koni dual-valve frequency selective dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension Type (rear): Semi-independent twist beam-axle, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Tire Size (front): 205/40ZR17 (84W)
Tire Size (rear): 205/40ZR17 (84)
Tire Brand: Pirelli
Tire Model: P Zero Nero
Tire Type: Asymmetrical, summer performance
As tested Curb Weight (lb): 2,587

Test Results:

0-30 (sec): 2.6 (3.3 w/ TC on)
0-45 (sec): 4.6 (6.1 w/ TC on)
0-60 (sec): 7.1 (9.5 w/ TC on)
0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 6.7 (9.1 w/ TC on)
0-75 (sec): 10.4 (12.8 w/ TC on)
1/4-Mile (sec @ mph): 15.3 @ 88.8 ( 16.7 @ 84.8 w/ TC on)

30-0 (ft): 30
60-0 (ft): 123

Slalom (mph): 68.8 ( 66.3 w/TC on)
Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.87 ( 0.85 w/TC on)

Db @ Idle: 48.5
Db @ Full Throttle: 80.8
Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 71.2


Acceleration: Easily blows off the tires leaving the line. Shifter feels indirect and sloppy in daily use but slots right into gear on the track. Engine is done making useful power by 6,000 rpm.

Braking: Not a picture of stability any time — especially during full-ABS stops. Wanders and squirms and pedal loses its edge after a few stops. Long stopping distance, too.


Skid pad: Won't balance on the throttle here like it will at higher speeds on the track. There's understeer — more or less, depending on speed — but nothing will make this car rotate on the skid pad.

Slalom: Likes to be manhandled here. The harder I drove, the quicker it went. Being smooth seems less important than being aggressive. Doesn't like midcorner bumps.

Vehicle: 2012 Fiat 500 Sport

Odometer: 1,452
Date: 4/26/2011
Driver: Mike Monticello
Price: $19,200 (as tested)

Drive Type: Front engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission Type: Five-speed manual
Engine Type: Naturally aspirated, port-injection inline-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in): 1,386/83
Redline (rpm): 6,250
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 101 @ 6,500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 98 @ 4,000
Brake Type (front): 10.1-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Brake Type (rear): 9.4-inch solid discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Suspension Type(front): Independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension Type (rear): Semi-independent twist beam-axle, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, integrated stabilizer bar
Tire Size (front): 195/45R16 (84H)
Tire Size (rear): 195/45R16 (84H)
Tire Brand: Continental
Tire Model: ContiProContact
Tire Type: All-season
As tested Curb Weight (lb): 2,433

Test Results:

0-30 (sec): 3.2 (3.7 w/ TC on)
0-45 (sec): 6.3 (7.0 w/ TC on)
0-60 (sec): 10.5 (11.4 w/ TC on)
0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 10.3 (11.0 w/ TC on)
0-75 (sec): 16.8 (17.5 w/ TC on)
1/4-Mile (sec @ mph): 17.6 @ 76.6 ( 18.1 @ 76.3 w/ TC on)

30-0 (ft): 31
60-0 (ft): 119

Slalom (mph): 65.3 ( 64.8 w/TC off)
Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.80 ( 0.79 w/TC on)

Db @ Idle: 44.6
Db @ Full Throttle: 79.3
Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 72.5


Acceleration: Weak power, not much throttle response, even in Sport mode. Quickest run came with a 3,500-rpm launch and just a bit of wheelspin; requires a 2-3 shift before 60 mph. Besides the fact the little four-cylinder revs slowly, it's also hurt by a rev limiter that cuts in just past 6,000 in 1st and 6,400 in 2nd, despite the car's 6,800-rpm redline. Long throws from the five-speed manual, but positive shifts.

Braking: This 500 doesn't stop anywhere near as well as the car we had for our Full Test, due to the fact that the other car had the stickier Pirellis. Lots of nosedive and a very light tail with significant lateral movements. Still has a firm pedal feel, though.


Skid pad: Chassis was only mildly willing to alter its line with drop-throttle; lots of understeer and body roll. With ESC off it wanted to spin up the inside front tire; the throttle would cut sporadically with ESC on, but was not overly intrusive, so driver still required to adjust throttle.

Slalom: Well this was a letdown, at least compared to the 500 Sport we had previously. What a difference tires can make, along with a less grippy test surface. Steering still feels good, with decent weighting and turn-in, but lots of body roll and little grip from the tires makes the car push wide around the cones. ESC was near perfect in that it just cut throttle slightly as car would get out of shape, the same amount whether On or "Off." There isn't a full OFF setting.

Mall Showroom

March 28, 2012

Went into my local mall to pick up a new pair of jeans and came across a Fiat showroom. Now that would be some kind of impulse purchase, huh?

Would you go to a mall specifically to buy a new car?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor

Design Idol

March 28, 2012

Fiat has its own official merchandise site for those who want to flaunt the brand. But over at the, the design-orientated shopping site, there's a whole lot of vintage-design Fiat merch, including the bags you see above, coffee cups, perpetual calendars, smartphone cases and more. I particularly like this arty poster with its evocation of the Italian flag:

I nearly bought one of the bags, but couldn't find one that would look really good with our Fiat's rosso hue. I'm still tempted by the poster.

Carroll Lachnit, Shopaholic & Features Editor @14,234 miles

Stop Asking Already

March 29, 2012

The Bluetooth interface on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is pretty basic. The process for pairing a phone is straightforward, but it involves talking to the robotic Blue&Me narrator whether you like it or not.

There's also little ability to customize settings or troubleshoot problems. For instance, you can add phones from here to who knows how many/long, but you can't delete a phone. When I got a new iPhone that had the same number as my old iPhone (which had already been paired), I couldn't pair the new phone. And I had no idea why.

Randomly yesterday, after repeated tries on different days, the Fiat finally allowed me to pair the new phone. However, due to the non-delete aspect of the system, I decided that this time I didn't want to copy my phonebook to its ill-defined blackhole. So I responded no when I got the above visual and audio prompt from the Blue&Me lady.

If only that had been the end of it...

No, see, instead, every time I start up the car, the Blue&Me lady waits until I'm a couple minutes into the drive and then disregards my initial negatory response and interrupts my radio programming to ask again (audibly) if I'd like to copy my phonebook.

No means no. And once should be enough.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,290 miles

Doesn't Do Anything

March 30, 2012

This is the driver seat-height adjustor lever that Magrath broke the first month we had the Fiat 500. Or, actually, this is the replacement lever.

Near as I can tell, our experience with this car wouldn't have been any different if we'd left the broken lever as is, because the lever is useless for adjusting the height of the seat.

I've pushed on it countless times to make the seat-bottom go lower — and it does not go lower, won't even budge in fact. I like the steering wheel in its lowest tilt position, see, but in that position, the steering wheel hits my thighs unless I move the seat a bit farther back than is comfortable given the wheel's lack of telescope adjustment.

For kicks, I've also pulled on the lever to see if the seat height can actually be raised past its default barstool setting.

In both cases, nothing doing. To me, this lever is like akin to a fake pocket on women's trousers. It's there to give the suggestion of functionality (and style?), but there's no actual function behind it.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,297 miles

Ergonomic Issue

March 30, 2012

This is the Fiat 500's interior.

My right knee is always, and I mean always, jammed up against the hard plastic bit that surrounds the shifter. Well, unless I have the cruise control on, but that's pretty rare what with L.A.'s ever-present traffic.

It would be somewhat more bearable if that was soft-touch material instead.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 14,375 miles.

Mickey Mouse Pedigree

March 30, 2012

Image courtesy of

When I pretend to work, I take a breaks after long hours of staring at images on a screen... by staring at other stuff on the screen. Often that takes me to There you can find all kinds of off-beat, interesting cars that people have a strange fascination for.

It was there I saw a 1953 Fiat Topolino 500C Convertible. It's remarkable to see a direct lineage of a vehicle from nearly 60 years ago to our current long term Fiat. It shares a lot of the same shape, dimension, and character. Kind of like a kid having grandpa's nose.

Definitely worth a look with plenty of images. Any fan of Italian automotive history will definitely be happy.

Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography


April 02, 2012

I've driven cars that are easier to heel-and-toe than the Fiat 500. It's a combination of two things: First, the pedal placement could be better, as the throttle pedal is spaced a bit further away from the brake pedal than optimal.

Second, the Fiat's brakes are touchy on initial application. So while it's no big deal to heel-and-toe downshift the 500 when you're braking hard, it's when you need to slow down just a bit, but also want to accomplish a downshift (like when you're approaching a stoplight), that you notice the pedal placement and non-linear brakes. It's not as second nature as it should be.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 14,546 miles.

It's a Scooter!

April 06, 2012

If you don't get what a scooter is about, you'll never get the Fiat 500.

The scooter is Italy. It's just enough and not a bit more. It's convenient, not just useful. It's expressive, but not overbearing. It is simplicity itself, the very same thing that makes you weigh an iPhone in your hand for a moment before you switch it on.

Of course, if the Fiat 500 is really a scooter, no wonder it seems so out of place in the land of the Camaro ZL-1, Harley-Davidson, and suitcase-size sub-woofer.

And oddly enough, the scooter was an American idea, even though it's thought of as a purely Italian thing. As Ferdinando Innocenti was looking around at his bomb-damaged factory in Milan while the American military went by at the end of World War II, he noticed that GIs were using made-in-Nebraska Cushman scooters to carry messages. And he realized that the scooter could furnish the cheap transportation that would put Italy on wheels after the war.

Innocenti collaborated on a scooter design with Corradino D'Ascanio, who had engineered the first modern helicopter for Agusta. The innovative design featured a simple, spar-type step-through frame, an integrated engine, transmission and drive gear, and a passenger shield against road debris.

Innocenti asked for a tube-type frame, as the manufacture of rolled tubing had been his company's primary business in the 1920s and 1930s, but D'Ascanio wouldn't compromise (ah, engineers) and took his design to Piaggio, an aircraft company, where it went into production in 1946 as the Vespa ("wasp").

Innocenti turned instead to Cesar Pallavicino, the technical director at Caproni aircraft, and Pier Luigi Torre, an aircraft engine designer at Idros. Finally the Lambretta (a name derived from the Lambro, a river near Innocenti's factory in Milan) went into production in 1947.

The scooter absolutely transformed Italian society just as Innocenti had anticipated. It was cheap to buy and cheap to run. It could wriggle through the narrow streets of Italy's ancient cities and then could be parked by just backing it into a curb or leaning it against a wall. It wasn't big or impressive or even all that practical, but it was convenient. There were scooters everywhere.

For me, the Fiat 500 is about pure mobility, just like a scooter. Of course, you have to say that the scooter has never been very successful in America. It has come into fashion time and again, notably in the early 1960s with the Honda 50, the mid-1970s with the moped, and the 1990s with fast, highway-friendly scooters, but the scooter concept has never really been compatible with the mix of big, high-speed cars and trucks that are characteristic of the U.S.

Just like the scooter, the Fiat 500 needs just the right environment before it can flourish. To say that it's not great at crossing the country or it's unsuitable for taking people to the airport pretty much belabors the obvious. The question is, what is the place of the small car in America? Where does it fit in? Where is convenience the most important aspect of personal mobility?

Or is the small car just way sexier in advertising than in real life, just like the scooter?

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 14,456 miles

Working on the Weekend

April 9, 2012

This weekend, the 500 was quite the busy little city car. Our Fiat...

1) Provided transportation on a couple trips to the grocery store. I was shopping for one, so the 500 had no problem handling the bags.

2) Took me to Best Buy to pick out some new speakers for my desktop. The box containing the small speakers fit easily in back.

3) Escorted me and a friend to Silverlake for some stand-up comedy. There was ample room in the cabin for two, and we got there and back in reasonable comfort.

4) Took me to the movies where I joined some friends for a showing of the new film by Whit Stillman.

My one complaint? The 500 can be very unforgiving over bumps and ruts. Hit a rough spot and you're rattled to the molars. I learned to take coarse patches of road very, very slowly to avoid being jarred.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 14,708 miles

Throttle Response

April 19, 2012

I've been driving our 2012 Fiat 500 for a couple days (though not on this particular road), as it has suited my mood and my needs — manual gearbox, small exterior dimensions, doesn't get mad or confused if I chuck it into a corner just because.

However, I wish the car had sharper throttle response. Press the pedal at a stoplight and you just get nothing at first; then, you jab it harder and off you go. This is totally something I get used to when I drive the car for more than a day (and undoubtedly a normal owner would, too), but I wish the Fiat would respond more like the Honda Fit and Mazda 2 when you give it gas. None of these are quick cars, but the livelier throttle calibration in the Honda and Mazda makes them more fun for me. Makes for easier heel-and-toe downshifting, too.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,902 miles

Oh Yeah, I'm Doing It Wrong

April 20, 2012

One thing that I've noticed about our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport since it was new is that you can't be in a hurry going into Reverse gear. Getting to the gate requires you to pull up on a ring and then slide the shifter way over to the right and down. Not difficult. But if you are in a hurry, I've found this shifter more susceptible than most to grinding. Not good.

I'm a chronically impatient person, which is bad. Even when I think I'm not hurrying and being deliberate about getting the clutch all the way in and moving the shifter exactly into position for Reverse, well, I'm still hurrying and I still occasionally get the graunch.

Pausing just a little longer with the car stopped usually helps, as does reclutching. But most often what I'll do is give it a little throttle on my way into reverse — that gets it in there smoothly every time.

Obviously, I'm not pointing out a flaw in the Fiat, but a flaw in myself... frankly, I've only talked to one other driver who has ever had this problem in the 500. In other news, I'm seeking the nomination for the 2012 Least Favorite Editor award.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,917 miles

The Art of Badges

April 20, 2012

One thing our 2012 Fiat 500 does really well, whether you consider it important or not, is nail the aesthetic details. Over the months, I've pointed out/harped on various aspects of the driving experience that competitors like the Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and Mini Cooper do better, but none of those cars have badging that's as cool and artistic as the Fiat's.

Every time I walk up the Fiat and get into it, I see these badges and they make me interested to drive the car again. Now, not everyone is going to be as susceptible as I am to the subliminal messaging, but these are great badges nonetheless.

Any other nominees for cars that have really well designed badges?

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,912 miles

Not the First to Wear Gucci

April 23, 2012

You may have heard (and perhaps you may even want to forget) that there's a Gucci edition of the Fiat 500. When I saw one drive by the other day, it reminded me of two other cars that were touched by the famous Italian clothing/luggage company's hand...

The first car to get Guccified was the 1972 AMC Hornet Sportabout. Strange that a prestigious designer would collaborate with such a workaday make and model. But regardless of the strange marriage, this Green Hornet featured a unique interior with green/red/white upholstery and a headliner that sported the interlocking "G" pattern seen on Gucci luggage and handbags.

Then in '78 and '79 a more fitting car wore the designer duds — the Cadillac Seville. In addition to the special interior treatment (with Gucci pattern headrests, armrests and headliner), the Seville featured a Gucci pattern rear quarter roof covering, green/red pinstripes, Gucci emblems in place of Cadillac symbols and a set of Gucci luggage. The next-generation Seville (1980-'85) was also available (through '84) with the Gucci touch. The latter are much rarer though, likely due to the polarizing styling and craptastic engines offered during those years.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor

Washer Fluid Adventures

April 23, 2012

I can't remember the last time I had a thought about windshield washer fluid that lasted longer than the 2 minutes involved in buying a jug of it.

But our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport makes it interesting again. It turns out the filler mouth for its reservoir is about 6 inches below hood level. The upshot is that unless you've got a steady hand (I don't) and the presence of mind to brace the fluid jug against the headlight (I didn't), you're gonna need a funnel to avoid slopping it all over the engine bay.

On the upside, the top for the windshield washer fluid can be repurposed as a temporary replacement top for the fluid reservoir if you've temporarily lost track of the flimsy OEM cap.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,920 miles

2012 Fiat 500 - 15k

April 24, 2012

So our little 500 motored past 15,000 miles this weekend. As it happened during a long highway drive, I was in the middle of the New York Times crossword puzzle when it occurred and I was too distracted to notice.

No, not really.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 15,247 miles

What's it Worth?

April 26, 2012

Our 2012 Fiat 500 is nearing the end of its term in our fleet. When selling time arrives, we usually look at Edmunds True Market Value (TMV) and compare that to what we we're offered for a car at Carmax. However, since this car is still relatively new to the U.S. market, there is currently no used pricing data available. Our TMV analysts are working hard to crunch the numbers, but won't have their results ready until the end of next month. We've got the new-car itch, though, and we need to start clearing out some old toys before we can get new ones.

As with the Volt, we went into Carmax with no clue as to what the folks there would offer us for the car. I hazarded a guess of $17,500 based on what similar 500s were being listed for on AutoTrader. Turns out, I was way off the mark.

The pros at Carmax didn't blink an eye when I brought in the 500. I asked them if this was the first Fiat they've appraised and they said no. "People have brought us Fiats that they won in a raffle or on a game show," said the appraiser.

Maybe those winners needed the money or wanted something bigger. Perhaps they got tired of the J-Lo commercials. Anyway, 20 minutes later, I was staring at the computer screen with the Carmax offer: $14,000. For reference, we paid $19,200. This was a depreciation of about 27 percent.

For another comparison, I decided to call Trade-In Solutions, another appraisal business I recently heard about. The rep there didn’t have pricing information on the Fiat either, but told me earlier this week that if I called back with the Carmax price, Trade-In Solutions would let me know whether they could beat it or not.

"Take the Carmax offer," said the representative "It's a good price."

We have a week to mull it over. In the meantime, let us know what you think. Should we take the offer?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 15,300 miles

Maintenance and Repair

April 30, 2012

If you want to get the most for a used car, it is always best to sell it without any outstanding issues. I noticed recently that the air conditioning on our 2012 Fiat 500 stopped blowing cold air, so I took it in for repairs. The Fiat was about 600 miles away from the 16K service, but since we are selling the car, I figured I'd have that taken care of too. Lastly, the car was missing a windshield washer reservoir cap so I asked if they had one in stock.

The air conditioning system needed a recharge, which was taken care of under warranty. The last car we had with an A/C that needed recharging this soon was the Mitsubishi Outlander GT.

In addition to the oil change and tire rotation, there was an open TSB regarding a clicking noise owners heat while closing the doors. The bulletin notes say: "inspect door check strap bolts for looseness and if necessary, applying thread lock sealant to the attachment bolts and tightening them to the specified torque."

The Fiat dealer in Van Nuys was either understaffed or everyone had called in sick that day.
There was only one service advisor working. He wasn't flooded with customers, yet everything took much longer than it should have.

I had to remind him that the washer reservoir cap was still missing. He walked into the service bay and came back with a replacement. Since the part wasn't on our invoice, I have a feeling he took it off one of the other cars. I'm not sure if the part would have been covered under warranty, but he didn’t charge me for it. And since our Fiat has three years of free maintenance, we paid nothing for the service.

As for that other Fiat in the foreground, you're not seeing double. It belonged to an older gentleman who told me it was the fifth Fiat he's owned. "They've never given me any problems," he said. Guess he had better luck than we did.

Total Cost: $0
Days out of Service: 0

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 15,400 miles

Smarter Than the Sonic

April 30, 2012

Generally, we like the Chevy Sonic around these parts: It's got a good motor with great mid-range and it in no way rides like a small car.

Of course, we've got our gripes, too. I think the interior is taaaacky and we're almost universally convinced that the electronically controlled throttle is a huge downer. It tries to do the thinking for you and, at low RPM, refuses to act when you instigate throttle tip-in. Want to quickly get the engine from idle to 1,200? It takes a KICK, not a tap. It's very much like driving our Fiat 500 without the sport button pressed. (Which is a lot like driving a slower Mini Cooper S without the Sport button pressed.)

This is all our Sonic really needs to alleviate the silly throttle manipulation issues. Sure, fuel economy will suffer as a result of having precise control, but your happiness is worth more than a few bucks in gas. Put one in, Chevy.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor,

Instead of Pancakes

May 02, 2012

Usually, I try to avoid weighing in on matters of style, because I'm not on the cutting edge in any other part of my life, so why would I have any special insight on how cars look? Exactly. But I'm going to venture out here and say that I like our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport's hind quarters.

If you look around the subcompact/B-segment class, you'll notice that pancake-flat butts prevail. Even the good-looking cars have pancake butts. OK, so the Mazda 2's has a little bit of shape to it, but it's so subtle. The Mini's is excessively tidy; I feel the same about the Audi A3, which is not in the same class but included here anyway.

Then, there's the Fiat 500. It has a more aggressive slant to its rear hatch, and there's an attractive contour line that flows horizontally through the hatch from the doors.

Meanwhile, the bulging rear fenders spill into the bumper and give the car's butt just the right (visual) weight. It almost looks curvy.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor


May 07, 2012

After mulling it over for 11 days, we decided to sell our long term Fiat 500 to Carmax. Our prior appraisal had expired, so the car would need to be re-evaluated. Would Carmax offer us the same amount — or less?

The second appraisal went much faster, since the car was already in the system. Carmax re-appraised the Fiat for $14,000, the same amount as last time. It wasn't too surprising: We had only driven the car 227 miles since we last brought it in. We took the offer and I was out of there in about an hour.

I'm going to miss our Fiat 500. It was a car that was fun to drive, fuel-efficient and garnered plenty of smiles and thumbs up from curious onlookers.

Final Odometer: 15,527 miles.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor


What We Got
The 2012 Fiat 500 Sport was not only an all-new model last year, it was Fiat's first U.S. product since the mid-1980s. Thanks to its purchase of Chrysler, the Italian brand had an easy path into the American market and took advantage of it.

At the time of our purchase, Fiat offered limited options on the 500. Our car had a five-speed manual, which was the only transmission available at the time. Fiat dictated the specs of our engine as well. Every 500 had the same 1.4-liter four-cylinder. It was good for 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque.

We made some decisions ourselves. The Sport trim fit our tastes, including performance improvements to the suspension and steering, larger 16-inch wheels, a roof spoiler, foglamps and combination cloth-vinyl seating. We added just two options in an effort to keep the price reasonable. First was a sunroof for $850. Second was the Safety and Sound package for $350. The last decision was color. A red exterior with black and gray interior looked Italian to us, so we checked the appropriate boxes.

It cost us $19,200, but it put one of the most unique new cars for 2012 in our garage. Visual styling alone made an impact on how we perceived the 500, so the next 12 months and 20,000 miles were bound to leave lasting impressions.

Our Impressions

"We're not sure how we ended up on Mulholland Highway with the 2012 Fiat 500, but the little red hatchback is taking the abuse well. We chuck it into corner after corner, and it always takes a set (eventually) and then gathers itself up for the next challenge. As economy cars go, this Rosso Cinquecento is a gamer." — Erin Riches

"The biggest surprise here is the 2012 Fiat 500. It is the only car here to have met or exceeded its EPA estimates on every leg of the test, beating cars that should theoretically have been more efficient." — James Riswick

"Here's something I didn't expect from our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport: serious comfort over nine hours of driving. Nine hours.... If you'd told me before the trip that I'd last that long in the Fiat without getting all kinked up, uncomfortable and generally grumpy, I wouldn't have believed you." — Erin Riches

"It's easy to be flip about the 500. But despite some of its baffling details, it's hard not to like it. It's eager. It buzzes and whines when you spur it, but it'll move for you. It'll dart into that gap between stopped traffic and the right-hand turn lane you want. The shift action is nice.... It's less suited for highway travel, though. Likes to wander at highway speeds and requires constant steering adjustment.... It is purpose-built for the city. The Fiat is great on the tight streets and parking around the office... an errand car." — Dan Frio

"Some editors dislike our 2012 Fiat 500. I, on the other hand, really appreciate it for what it is: a great little city car. I always grab its key fob off the board willingly and with a smile on my face, looking forward to its easy shifting and its park-ability, especially when I have to get to an event in car-crowded Hollywood or Downtown. Plus, its cute look never fails to garner smiles from my fellow drivers. A feat in itself. Sure, it may not be the car for those who like canyon carving, but it's great for canyon cruising." — Carroll Lachnit

"I've driven our Fiat 500 numerous times now.... I don't like it. I don't fit. It's as though the seat doesn't ratchet down far enough so I bonk my head on the roof near the door. I'm not that tall (6'1") either.... The dash crowds the ignition slot, so it's always a fight between hand, key and dash.... Succeed at starting it and you're rewarded with the shrillest, most piercing seatbelt alert in the history of personal transportation.... All this, and the actual driving experience is pretty ho-hum. Power is fine, really, especially once you really explore the throttle's reach. It's that the controls — steering, clutch, shifter — are all too light and artificial.... Fans of small, light cars deserve better than the Fiat 500." — Jason Kavanagh

"My right knee is always, and I mean always, jammed up against the hard plastic bit that surrounds the shifter. Well, unless I have the cruise control on, but that's pretty rare what with L.A.'s ever-present traffic." — Mike Monticello

"Don't buy the sunroof.... It's quite rare I find myself into a car's roof quite like this. Now, this is a result of two things. The first is the tall seating position, which creates more than enough legroom. The second is the 500's sunroof (optional on our Sport model), that robs a few valuable inches of headroom. I fit without any problem in 500s without a sunroof." — James Riswick

"This 500 doesn't stop anywhere near as well as the car we had for our Full Test, due to the fact that the other car had the stickier Pirellis. There is lots of nosedive and a very light tail with significant lateral movements under full-ABS braking. Still has a firm pedal feel, though." — Josh Jacquot

"A good day in the Fiat 500 involves picking up dry-cleaning and treating ourselves to organic berries." — Erin Riches

"Ah, America. You have got to be big to win respect in this country. The Fiat 500 is not big, and there are not yet very many of them, so it gets dissed." — Michael Jordan

"...And the used oil analysis results were as follows... Italian dressing 50%, Gelato 40%, Biscotti particles 5%, and Cream Zabaglione 5%." — various blog commenters

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: Routine service was a breeze with the 2012 Fiat 500. Fiat performs free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles. The prescribed interval is 8,000 miles. But we learned that a severe service schedule every 4,000 miles is also covered. That makes up to nine visits in the first 36,000 miles, all on Fiat's dime. Dealer stops at 8,000 and 16,000 miles were enough to meet our oil freshness needs.

Service Campaigns: We encountered a handful of extracurricular service items during our test. Days after we purchased our Fiat, the driver seat adjustment lever broke off in our hands. It was a poor design. And its replacement was equally as incapable of adjusting the seat height to any noticeable degree.

A flat tire ruined two of our 365 days of Fiat. You see, our car did not have the optional spare. So the pothole that decimated our low-profile, 195/45R16 ContiProContact front tire left us stranded. The tow truck shuttled us safely to the local tire shop, but the rubber had to be ordered. Our 500 sat overnight waiting for the $163 replacement to arrive.

Additional issues arose during the year. These were generally minor as they pertained to our car, however. A brake system recall of 340 units did not include us. The rear hatch would not open on rare occasions. There was the creaking seat. The electronic throttle warning lit up a few times, mysteriously and without consequence. And we unexpectedly received a wrench in the mail to address a sunroof recall.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: We were not surprised by EPA estimations for the Fiat. The 2,400-pound coupe should easily meet the 30 city/38 highway mpg, we figured. But we did not expect it would exceed them as it did. During our test the Fiat eclipsed 40 mpg multiple times. Its best single tank covered over 356 miles at a rate of more than 42 mpg. Our lifetime average of 31 mpg beat even EPA city calculations.

Resale and Depreciation: We purchased the 2012 Fiat 500 for its sticker price of $19,200. The 500's small size accounted for a lack of popularity in-house and subsequently low mileage accumulation. One year ago we set our sights on 20,000 miles. Yet at the time of sale the ticker read just 15,527.

Where it lacked in popularity, we hoped, the Fiat would make up in depreciation. Our hopes were unrealized. At the time of sale, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the Fiat at 27 percent less than its original cost.

In general, this figure reflects an unimpressive degree of depreciation. But as compared to previous long-term compacts it is not outrageous. For reference, our similarly seasoned long-term 2011 Mazda 2, 2009 Honda Fit and 2009 Suzuki SX4 depreciated 22 percent, 23 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Summing Up

Pros: Fuel economy is outstanding and maintenance is free for 3 years or 36,000 miles. Fun and distinctive quirks set the Fiat 500 apart from the stale majority in this segment.

Cons: Its stylistic idiosyncrasies cut both ways. Design choices amplify ergonomic limitations inherent in compact coupes. Its sporting intentions are not realized.

Bottom Line: Far happier running errands around town than anything its Sport trim might suggest, the 2012 Fiat 500 is a purpose-built city car with style. And it's one of the few non-hybrid members of the 40-mpg club.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: None (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $163.45 to replace one tire
Warranty Repairs: Replace driver seat lever
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1 to replace seat lever
Days Out of Service: 1 waiting for a tire
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 1 flat tire with no spare
Best Fuel Economy: 42.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 31.4 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $15,262 (private-party sale)
What it Sold for: $14,000
Depreciation: $5,200 (or 27% of paid price)
Final Odometer Reading: 15,527 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.